PEOPLE: RON DENNIS
Name: Ron Dennis
Nationality: Great Britain
Born and brought up in Woking, Dennis left school at 16 and became an apprentice mechanic at the Thompson & Taylor garage, near the old Brooklands racing circuit. He did a part-time vehicle technology course at Guildford Technical College. When Thompson and Taylor was taken over by the Chipstead Group Dennis was transferred to the Cooper Car Company, another Chipstead subsidiary and started work in motor racing on the production line building Formula 2 and Formula 3 Coopers.
When he was 18 he became a mechanic with the Cooper Formula 1 team, working with Jochen Rindt. The Austrian stayed with Cooper until 1968 when he joined Brabham and Dennis went with him, staying on to work as mechanic to Jack Brabham after Rindt moved to Team Lotus in 1969.
After Brabham retired from driving at the end of 1971 Dennis and a fellow Brabham mechanic Neil Trundle decided to start their own team. Rondel Racing opened for business in February 1972 in premises in Woking. They found sponsorship from French oil company Motul and acquired two Brabham BT38s chassis from Ron Tauranac. The team made its debut at Mallory Park in March with drivers Carlos Reutemann and Bob Wollek with the Argentine driver winning the heat and finishing third. A third car was acquired later for Henri Pescarolo. After some initial problems with stub axle failures, which caused the cars to be withdrawn from a race at Thruxton, Derek Bell joined the team at the Nurburgring and finished second, but they had to wait until August before winning their first race with Henri Pescarolo taking the Mediterranean GP at Enna.
A bad road accident forced Dennis into a managerial role and he was soon planning his own cars. Ray Jessop was commissioned to design a F2 car for the 1973 season, to be called a Motul after the team's principal sponsor.
The 1973 season began with no fewer than five Motul M1s in action at each race. Pescarolo won the second race of the year at Thruxton and Schenken gave them a second win at the Norisring in September.
In the course of the season Jessop was commissioned to design a Rondel F1 car but this was never run by the team because it closed down as a result of Motul cutting back on its racing activities after the 1973 Oil Crisis. The F1 car became known as the Token after Tony Vlassopoulo and Ken Grob, who took over the program.
In 1975 Dennis established a new team called Project Three which was involved in running the BMW Junior Team F2 cars and later the ICI March team before the establishment of Project 4 which enjoyed considerable success in Formula 2, Formula 3 and Procar racing. The team won the British Formula 3 title in 1979 and 1980 with Chico Serra* and Stefan Johansson and the 1980 Procar title with Niki Lauda.
In September 1980 Marlboro engineered the merger of McLaren and Project Four to form McLaren International. In 1981 Dennis took over the entire operation and the following year convinced Mansour Ojjeh* to join in. Ojjeh funded the TAG turbo engines and the McLaren-TAG combination became one of the most formidable forces in F1 history, winning World titles with Niki Lauda in 1984 and Alain Prost in 1985 and 1986. In 1988 McLaren allied with Honda and the McLaren-Hondas of Prost and Ayrton Senna dominated the year, winning 15 of the 16 races. Senna won the title but Prost had his revenge in 1989. The steamroller continued to win World Championships with Senna in 1990 and 1991 but then Williams became the dominant force.
The TAG McLaren Group expanded to build a supercar called the McLaren F1 and to win sportscar races but the F1 program suffered. Honda withdrew from F1 at the end of 1992 and Senna left the team in 1993. There followed a series of poor seasons until 1997 when the new McLaren-Mercedes alliance began to produce results and in 1998 Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard dominated the World Championship, Hakkinen getting the title. That success continued in 1999 when Dennis sold 10% of his 40% share in the team to DaimlerChrysler AG.
Dennis was honoured with his appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the summer of 2000.