Defending Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he was 'surprised' but not disappointed by the revelation yesterday (Thursday) that his long-time mentor Ron Dennis is henceforth to cut all of his ties with McLaren's F1 operation – and insisted that despite speculation to the contrary, he remains 'happy' at the embattled Woking-based concern.
In the wake of the Australian Grand Prix 'lies' controversy that has rocked the multiple world championship-winning outfit – with whom Hamilton claimed his own maiden title in the top flight last year – Dennis has confirmed that he is to step down from all F1 responsibilities at McLaren, a team at whose helm he stood for 28 years from 1981 until the beginning of last month.
Though the Englishman had already taken a back seat in handing over the day-to-day control to second-in-command Martin Whitmarsh, the new move marks a complete withdrawal – reputedly following a frank exchange of opinions with Hamilton's manager father Anthony over the Melbourne controversy, in which the nine-time grand prix-winner claimed that he too had been 'misled' by his team and put in an impossible situation.
Moreover, the announcement means that the man who nurtured the Stevenage born ace's career all the way from his karting days to the heady heights of grand prix superstardom will no longer be a part of the team. His young protégé, however, has ensured that Dennis will always remain an important part of his life.
“I wasn't disappointed, I was surprised,” Hamilton is quoted as having said by international news agency Reuters
ahead of this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix. “I hadn't heard about it; I was just as surprised as the rest of the team.
“Ron has been a huge force in supporting my life and he's still playing a key role in my life, whether he's in the team or not. You guys have been writing about it for years – as soon as he gets to a certain stage, he'll step aside. I guess he's decided that time is now.”
The 24-year-old has endured a torrid start to his title defence on-track too in 2009 to-date, notching up just a single point so far courtesy of seventh place in the rain-shortened Malaysian Grand prix in Sepang a fortnight ago. Lapping quickest of all in FP1 in Shanghai, though, was undeniably a boost – even if Hamilton refuted suggestions that Dennis' departure could mark a new dawn for McLaren.
“I don't think we've made any new start or anything,” he underlined. “We're still working on the car [and] trying to improve it. Today it was a slight step forward, but we've got a lot more to do. It's the same as always – the guys are enthusiastic and determined to get back to the top.”
Insisting, finally, that the looming FIA World Motor Sport Council hearing in Paris on 29 April – at which he and his team could face further sanctions for having breached the International Sporting Code, sanctions potentially as serious as exclusion from the entire season – is 'nothing to do with me' as his job is purely 'to concentrate on racing', Hamilton added that he had not spoken to Dennis since yesterday's announcement, and replied to questions about his long-term future at McLaren in light of the recent scandal by stressing: “I'm contracted to the team and I'm happy where I am.”