It is expected to be announced today (Thursday) that long-time McLaren team principal Ron Dennis is to sever his ties with the squad after almost three decades – in a bid to save the damaged reputation of his protégé, reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, over the Australian Grand Prix 'lies' scandal.
Hamilton found himself disqualified from the 2009 curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne last month after the FIA revealed that he and respected long-standing team manager Dave Ryan had 'deliberately misled' race stewards in arguing that the Briton had not
been told to let the Toyota of Jarno Trulli re-pass him under a late-race safety car, ostensibly in an effort to get the Italian disqualified and inherit the final rostrum position. Subsequently released pits-to-car radio communication proved that not to be the case.
“My feeling is the FIA took such a strong decision because they felt someone was making a joke of them,” Trulli is quoted as having said by The Sun
. “In my opinion, there was no interest there to lie.
“I'm not here to blame anyone. The problem is that on that occasion I looked stupid, and I haven't done anything wrong.”
Hamilton made an emotional public apology a week later in Malaysia, in which he repeatedly insisted that he was 'not a liar' and claimed that he had also been 'misled' by Ryan. The latter – who McLaren suggested was solely to blame for the incident as the 'senior team member' involved – was suspended and later dismissed for his part in the unsavoury episode.
Hamilton and his manager father Anthony are said to be furious at the position in which the nine-time grand prix-winner was placed by his team – with the former even allegedly threatening to walk away from the sport in the wake of the damning revelations.
The Woking-based concern is due to face the governing body's World Motor Sport Council in Paris on 29 April on charges of breaching the International Sporting Code, with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone having hinted that further sanctions are far from out of the question – with exclusion from the entire season the most serious of the possible ramifications.
Now, seemingly in an effort to try and exonerate the team from any further blame, Dennis is understood to be preparing to relinquish all his F1 duties. The 61-year-old's mutual antipathy with FIA President Max Mosley was believed to have contributed to the sporting record $100 million fine meted out to McLaren and disqualification from the constructors' world championship over the contentious spying row back in 2007.
He handed over the reins as team principal to deputy Martin Whitmarsh prior to the start of the new campaign, though he maintained that he would still be involved in the running of the outfit, albeit no longer on a day-to-day basis. Dennis – who nurtured Hamilton from an eleven-year-old karter to the global superstar that he is today – was visibly in attendance in Albert Park, but was absent a week later in Sepang, where the controversy all unfolded.
He is expected henceforth to focus all of his attentions on McLaren's automotive division in his continuing capacity as chairman of the McLaren Group, having entered the top flight aged just 18 back in 1966 in the employ of the Cooper team, working alongside Jochen Rindt, the driver who would go on to become the sport's only ever posthumous world champion four years later. He took over as McLaren team principal in 1981, following the merger of his Project Four operation with Team McLaren Ltd.
“We are a very diverse organisation and we have a number of other projects ongoing, including the development of our road car,” the Englishman said when announcing back in January that he would be handing over his responsibilities to Whitmarsh.
“I still have huge passion for F1 and I want to be supportive of Martin's responsibilities, but that will come purely in the form of voicing an opinion.”