“We have to get back to competitiveness as soon as possible and we will get there much faster than people imagine, ” declared McLaren boss Ron Dennis this morning, breaking his silence for the first time since seizing back control of the company from Martin Whitmarsh.
“I believe we will win races this year, how many I don’t know and when I don’t know. The company was unfit and I said to them that if they match my commitment we will win. If they don’t match it they won’t be with the company.”
Dennis was on feisty form at a press gathering at the McLaren Technical Centre in Woking, England, laying out his vision for the company and for the F1 team’s return to competitiveness after its worst season since 1980.
“People were distracted, they had lost focus,” he said of the team as run by Whitmarsh last year. “[From now on] The F1 people in the company will only do F1, no distractions,” he added.
He declined to speak about Whitmarsh’s future, describing him as a friend and insisting that what is going on at the moment is “between us”. However, sources suggest that Whitmarsh is currently on holiday in Asia and will be organising his severance package when he returns later this month.
Dennis also spelled out the role he will – and more importantly won’t – undertake at races. “I have no intention of running the GP team. I guide them, advise them and will use my executive power to make changes if needed,” he said. “I’m fully involved at moment. I won’t be active at the circuit. I’m there to observe. We are in the restructuring phase at the moment and I want to be involved.”
Speaking about new recruit Eric Boullier, who has been hired as Racing Director, Dennis said: “Eric will carry the responsibility of those assigned in the regulations of a team principal.” However, Dennis, like Mercedes, believes that the job of running a team is nowadays too big today for one individual, especially when that person is out of the factory on the road at races for almost four months a year. The CEO role is key to Dennis’ vision, factory-based and focused on developing the team and making the car faster. The new appointment to that role would leave Boullier free to run the race team. Jonathan Neale is filling the role currently and will be the benchmark against whom all other candidates will be measured.
“The factory is where the power has to be. What makes the car faster happens here,” Dennis insisted.
The McLaren boss confirmed that the team will have no title sponsor at the first race of the season, but added, “one will feature in a few races after that. We are negotiating with several companies at the moment and I’m optimistic that it will happen sooner than later.” He also said that the team had turned away several companies offering a stop-gap solution, preferring to pursue a long-term partner to replace Vodafone.
Of the team’s 2014 driver line-up he said that hiring Kevin Magnussen was his decision, based on information from engineers. As for Jenson Button, he described him as an “incredibly good human being, principled and [he] has values. The way he conducts his life and his relationship with the team is right up there with the best drivers we have had here. He’s incredibly fit and intelligent, which will be important this year. He’s also quick and capable of winning races and championships. His age (34) will have nothing but a positive impact.”
In a sign that Dennis’ presence in the F1 paddock may influence the direction the sport takes on several topics, he indicated both that he was not a fan of budget caps and also that he has “done his bit” for the collective good in the past and from now on will be focused on what is best for McLaren, rather than the F1 teams as a whole.