In his first significant interview since leaving F1 just over a year ago, former McLaren-Mercedes team principal Ron Dennis has revealed the secrets behind his success, his frustrations with the 'judgemental' nature of the sport, how he has adapted to 'normal' life since stepping down – and how the world-at-large has never truly understood what he is really about.
Dennis has always been one of F1's enigmas. At the helm of McLaren since 1980, he orchestrated no fewer than ten drivers' world championships and seven constructors' crowns. Over the same period of time, no other team equalled that feat.
However, the Englishman quietly slipped back into the shadows at the beginning of 2009, handing over the reins to respected deputy Martin Whitmarsh – and three months later he was gone from the paddock altogether, having relinquished all involvement with McLaren's F1 operations.
Some suggest that, coming as it did so shortly after the Melbourne lies controversy, his departure had more than a little to do with endeavouring to secure the team and lead driver Lewis Hamilton an easier ride in front of the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC), presided over by then FIA President Max Mosley – his long-time nemesis and a man with whom Dennis had rarely seen eye-to-eye.
Indeed, it was Mosley who many believe was responsible for meting out the sporting record $100 million fine to McLaren in the wake of 2007's infamous espionage row – and without directly naming him, Dennis laments the fact that people are too quick to judge in F1, claiming that his perceived aloof character, obsessive personality and insistence on close attention to detail were never fully understood, and that he and the team were unfairly punished because of his insistence on staying true to his core beliefs and fighting for what he felt was right.
“It was a minor indiscretion by junior members of the organisation that got amplified into a bigger issue,” he told Esquire
magazine when asked about 'Spygate'. “It wasn't the way it was portrayed. As always, with the passing of time, the truth will come out.
“The bit I don't like is when people damage the reputation of this company for reasons that have their roots in issues that relate to how fiercely I've fought for what I believe to be right for Formula 1 and McLaren. Sometimes it's a price you wish you didn't have to pay, but [you do].
“I can sit on the pit wall and be serious, focussed and a commentator in another country says, 'oh, look at him, isn't he miserable', and that idea catches on. I have an amusing side to my personality, but when you're working, you're working. I'm responsible for two lives out there and the performance of the company. When I see my opposite numbers in other teams and how ridiculously colourful and playing to the audience they are, I can't help thinking, 'how on earth do you ever think you're going to win a grand prix?'
“You write down the names of all the team principals from the past ten years, and how many have won more than five races? It's a short list. Throw some other queries at that and you'll realise performance requires total dedication. You pay for that dedication because people misunderstand your personality and motives. That's the price you pay, but I sleep easy; I get a mental pain from looking at things which have not been properly executed – attention to detail is fundamental to how this company has grown.