F1: Is Ron Dennis the Real Dr. Evil?

Ron Dennis is in the middle of a McLaren power struggle that is leaving bodies scattered.
Ron Dennis is in the middle of a McLaren power struggle that is leaving bodies scattered.

Bernie Eccelstone as been supplanted as the villain of the Formula One story by Ron Dennis, team principle and fly in the ointment shareholder of McLaren. What’s curious is these two protagonists personalities’ are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Ecclestone is a proponent of ‘any publicity is good’ and Dennis is of the school that ‘no publicity is good’.

Truth is, at least Eccelstone provides comedic relief in the form of his braggadocios and sometimes wildly inflammatory statements. Ron Dennis stays out of the light and avoids publicity. The two seem to have achieved a Dr. Evil status via opposite means.

Dennis is known for having a Teutonic nature that’s decisive but quietly acerbic. He’s proven that in 2013 and 2014 that stern facade has begun to crack. Not deciding on a second driver to partner with the incoming Fernando Alonso, with whom he has a checkered past, has made himself and McLaren look almost foolish to the racing world.

Competing teams, drivers, vendors and fans around the world aren’t used to seeing McLaren in a seemingly state of disarray. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant, perception in racing is reality. It’s also damaging.

Honda can’t be pleased, Alonso, arguably the best Formula One driver still active, must be thinking that he’s either made a mistake or that this somehow plays into his Samurai world of deception. Either way it’s both bizarre and unsettling. Honda has a company brand at stake.

Perhaps the two most powerful men in Formula One: Bernie Eccelstone, (left) and Ron Dennis (right)
Perhaps the two most powerful men in Formula One: Bernie Eccelstone, (left) and Ron Dennis (right)

The damage is done. McLaren looks indecisive and foolish. Alonso appears to have been sold an errant bill of goods. Honda couldn’t get it’s engine to run in the Abu Dhabi tests and is losing face everyday that goes by. Ron Dennis seems to be a man looking for something, anything to control. Jenson Button has been bitch slapped in a way that someone of his stature should not have to endure. Kevin Magnussen is waiting in the wings to see what lies behind door number 3. Eric Boullier pulling out his hair. The list goes on.

What this all adds up to is a once brilliant team seems to have lost it’s way. For no good reason. On the other hand, perhaps the reason is simple. Money and power.

Ron Dennis is in the middle of a row with both his equal stakeholder, Mansour Ojjeh. Each own 25% while the largest single shareholder, at 50%, is Mumtalakat Investment Company who is owned by the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The squabble, at least on the surface, seems to be over which of the two drivers, Button and Magnussen, will partner with Fernando Alonso for 2015. However, it may be more complex than choosing teammates.

Quite possibly this decision was simply the straw that broke the camels back in a brewing fight between Ojjeh and Dennis, or an opportunity. Huge amounts of money and control are at stake and Ron Dennis is not used to being on the outside of complete control.

This isn’t the first rodeo trying to lasso power for Dennis. In 2013 he attempted a funding raise to buy out Ojjeh and a partial buy of the Bahraini’s. That didn’t happen.

After a recent shareholder meeting, allegedly to decide on the second driver, it was announced no decision had been made, rather, it became evident another plot was afoot.

Not content to remain an exposed shareholder in a company whose businesses range from Formula One to road cars to electronics, even being the official electronics supplier to NASCAR, Dennis announced that he will revisit the buyout scheme towards Ojjeh and the Bahraini’s in order to regain complete control of the empire.

He has, as with most contracts of this magnitude, a fixed amount of time to raise the capital in order to pull off the buyout. If he can’t then things will remain in situ until another plan can be hatched.

No doubt Dennis is attempting to bring Honda back to the ownership table, a plan once floated and failed, as well as others to fund his plan. All the while, the racing world looks at the situation as unstable, unprofessional and disrespectful to Jenson Button, in particular.

Whatever the outcome of the shareholder buyback plan, Dennis would do well to choose his driver to partner Alonso, who does not want to see Ron Dennis in control at all. Alonso, Ojjeh and the Bahraini’s wanted to minimize Dennis’ role in order to put distance between the Spanish driver and Dennis. They are not friends.

When Billionaires have spats, others get hurt without regard to their feelings, treasure or future. Let’s hope that this is not a dark harbinger for McLaren-Honda in 2015 and beyond.

Let’s hope to see white smoke pouring from the Vatican soon.




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