Former McLaren team principal Ron Dennis has conceded that his successor in the role, Martin Whitmarsh, is 'better' than he was at successfully handling the delicate balancing-act of having two F1 World Champions inside the same team.
Dennis was at the helm of McLaren from 1981 until the beginning of 2009, and during that period the Englishman presided over two of the most fractious, bitter and ultimately destructive internecine rivalries seen in the sport's history – Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988 and 1989, and Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in 2007. Although neither Senna nor Hamilton were world champions when they arrived at the team, they soon would be.
Renowned as something of a control freak and a man utterly obsessed by attention-to-detail, Dennis also struggled to establish any kind of rapport with the free-spirited, happy-go-lucky Kimi Raikkonen, a driver who spent several seasons trying and failing to clinch the crown with McLaren – and then proceeded to lift the laurels first time out with Ferrari after leaving the Woking-based outfit at the end of 2006.
In the light of the fact that lessons had palpably not been learned in the intervening two decades between Senna/Prost and Alonso/Hamilton, there was some apprehension expressed when reigning F1 World Champion Jenson Button joined his compatriot at McLaren last year – meaning Whitmarsh was tasked with keeping happy the sport's most recent two title-winners, and two men who would only be happy if they were beating the other.
Against all expectations, the line-up has worked – and for that, Whitmarsh merits significant praise. The only small blot on the landscape was Istanbul, when Hamilton was unimpressed that Button had the audacity to overtake him for the lead when the team had assured him he would not – but that aside, the relationship between the two Brits has been a largely harmonious one. Dennis acknowledges that his erstwhile long-time deputy deserves a great deal of credit for the part he has played in establishing such an entente cordiale
“Managing the co-habitation of two world champions is often a challenge,” the 63-year-old told French magazine F1i
. “I have tried it a few times. Martin is perhaps showing himself to be better than me at that role.”
Indeed, Whitmarsh's naturally adaptable and conciliatory approach – as opposed to the rather more entrenched and confrontational nature of his predecessor – means he is also likely to remain as chairman of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) this year, as the organisation prepares itself to discuss the terms of the new governing Concorde Agreement, scheduled to take effect from the end of 2012.