The pain and the embarrassment McLaren have endured during this year, is all because Ron Dennis has a vision. The British entrepreneur believes that to win another Formula One title, his team must have a ‘works’ power unit arrangement if they are to cease being ‘also rans’.
Of course, McLaren had this kind of relationship with Mercedes prior to Daimler Benz buying the Brackley based team from Ross Brawn.
This was the beginning of the end for the Mercedes-McLaren partnership that began back in 1995.
Ron Dennis took control of the Woking F1 team some 12 years after Bruce McLaren’s death in 1970. Despite the team having won the F1 1974 constructors’ title with the famous Ford DFV 3.0l V8 engine, results had deteriorated and McLaren sponsor Philip Morris persuaded Teddy Mayer – who had picked up the reigns following Bruce’s death – to merge the team with Dennis’ ‘Project Four’ Formula 2 team. Dennis had designer John Barnard on board.
Barnard was keen to try out his design for an all carbon fibre chassis in Formula One and Dennis set about getting a ‘works’ engine built by Porsche to compliment Barnard’s design. It debuted at the end of the 1983 season. It was a ‘white label’ engine, which meant Porsche designed and built it, but TAG paid for its development.
The Barnard design and the TAG turbo engine were a match made in heaven, winning the 1984 and 1985 constructors’ championships and coming second in 1986 and 1987. McLaren’s Niki Lauda was drivers’ champion for the final time in 1984 and then Alain Prost secured the next two championships with TAG power for McLaren.
Ron Dennis realised to sustain success he needed a mainstream auto manufacturer to power the McLaren cars and landed a deal with Honda, which began in 1988. McLaren Honda swept all before them in the constructors’ race for the next four years at the same time winning Senna three driver titles and Prost one.
By the end of 1993, Ron Dennis had steered McLaren to 6 F1 constructors’ titles and the runner up spot in the other four years. McLaren drivers’ had won seven of the ten drivers titles, but this golden era was about to end.
Honda withdrew from Formula One and in 1995 Dennis secured another ‘works’ team engine supply arrangement with Mercedes. Yet over 20 years of their F1 partnership, Mercedes-McLaren’s results were hardly stellar. They won just one constructor’ and three driver titles and clearly since going it alone, Mercedes have reaped the rewards winning back-to-back F1 championships and in the W06 produced the most dominant car the F1 world has ever seen.
Dennis knew the writing was on the wall once Mercedes bought the Brawn team, though joint ventures and engine contracts restrained McLaren from breaking free from their F1 engine supplier. Driven by a desire to bring back glory to Woking, Dennis knew this would only be possible if he could manoeuvre McLaren back into a ‘works’ power unit relationship – and Honda said yes.
The success of new kids on the block, Red Bull Racing, with their billionaire owner has clearly irked Ron Dennis given the years he has fought to get McLaren back to the pinnacle of Formula One. Dennis revealed in Abu Dhabi that at the recent F1 commission he had told Christian Horner to “suck it up” as he was challenged over his move to block Red Bull from receiving the same Honda power unit as McLaren.
Dennis explained: “Some of what Christian has been experiencing at the moment is self-inflicted. He’s obviously been lobbying hard, as you would expect him to, along different paths to achieve a better position for him and the Red Bull team.
“I understand that, but the real issue is what the teams have to do to make the future of grand prix racing better and we all have, as do the manufacturers in F1, a very strong desire to try and address some of the issues.”
However, Dennis claimed Horner had supported him at the very same meeting when he challenged the commercial rights holder – CVC Capital – on the future direction of Formula One.
“Everybody has to come to the party and that particular comment about Donald Mackenzie at CVC…after that comment, [Horner] was very complimentary about what I said and even how I said it.
“Everybody’s got to come to the party. They make a great deal of money from motor racing and they need to put a bit more back into the sport at critical moments – and the critical moment is keeping Renault and keeping the Red Bull team supplied with engines. It’s as simple as that.
“Without question, everybody was complimentary about my contribution to that meeting. So I don’t feel at all bad about it.”
The ‘budget’ engine proposal was always a red herring as far as Red Bull are concerned, as TJ13 has revealed they have been developing F1 power unit technologies this year in their dedicated building 9 in Milton Keynes. Red Bull are set to announce they will receive an unbranded ICE from Renault for 2016, which Horner claims will be developed throughout the year – most probably in association with Mario Illien. Red Bull racing will develop the other parts of the modern F1 power unit either in house or through sub-contractors.
When asked by the BBC what the engine will be called, Horner cryptically responded: “Wait and see what it is called. “It will be something quite good. I don’t think Ron Dennis will be very happy, but he hasn’t been very happy recently.”
The old adage he who laughs last, laughs longest may be something in which Christian Horner will delight, following the lambasting he received recently from Ron Dennis. Particularly given that the bitter irony of a Tag Heuer badged engine in the Adrian Newey RB12, will not be lost on the McLaren supremo.
The deal is scheduled for announcement on Thursday/Friday this week.