Ron Dennis’ 28 year tenure as team principal of McLaren ends today. His number two, Martin Whitmarsh, aged 50, takes over the role at a fascinating time for the team and the sport in general.
Under Dennis McLaren has been one of the most successful teams of the last three decades, although there have been marked downturns in their fortunes along the way, when the team struggled for competitiveness, like the period between the 1991 world title won by Senna and the 1998 one for Hakkinen. Since Hakkinen’s second title in 1999, there was a long and frustrating wait for another, which ended with Hamilton’s success last year.
But the global economic downturn has co-incided with the retirement of some of the more divisive older generation figures like Dennis and Ferrari’s Jean Todt and with the change in personnel and attitude the shape of F1 is changing too.
The FIA has already said this week that massive change is imminent to cut budgets (which will also mean reducing team sizes). Meanwhile the F1 teams’ association (FOTA) will face the media and the public for the first time later this week in Geneva and lay out its vision of the future of the sport.
Whitmarsh is a fine administrator, a diplomat and a genial character. He’s been around a long time, has McLaren DNA running through him, but manages to combine that with an independence of mind. He’s good at thinking around corners, as his well planned and executed strategy in 2006 to win the contract to supply the common electronic control unit (ECU) showed.
He will be absolutely central to the fortunes of the teams’ collective. Speaking in the Telegraph this weekend he said,
“If we can get our act together, I think we can get on so much better. What we’ve got to try and do is look at how we improve the show and stabilise the business. We have made a big effort to shed the scars and issues of the past.”
This sums up the state of play at the dawn of the Whitmarsh era at McLaren. The team itself is in good shape, in winning form with a strong technical team, a KERS system which works and as good a driver as anyone else has.