Ron Dennis has been asked more than once why he was prepared to take a chance on a confident ten-year old who told him that, one day, he wanted to drive for the McLaren team. Some 13 years on, the question has greater resonance as that same youngster is now the new F1 world champion.
Speaking in the aftermath of Lewis Hamilton's dramatic fifth place in the Brazilian Grand Prix, the result which gave him the title by a single point over Ferrari's Felipe Massa, Dennis admitted that, despite being surprised by the ten-year old's bravado, he noticed something else about him.
"I saw something in his eyes," the 61-year old told Britain's Daily Telegraph
, "It's like meeting a partner in life; you meet someone and you know that they're right; something about the body language, the eye contact, their presence, speaks to you. You just know. I just knew with Lewis."
Since that first meeting, at a London awards ceremony, Dennis, McLaren and Mercedes have nurtured Hamilton through the ranks, refusing to rush him up a level if they felt a second year would be more beneficial, until the Briton made it nigh on impossible for the Woking operation to promote him to its F1 ranks after storming to the 2006 GP2 Series title.
"We backed him," Dennis confirmed, "McLaren gave
him the opportunity, but it was Lewis who took
the opportunity - he worked hard and made sacrifices.
"I told him the only rule was that he did what we said, and that we would always look after his interests. He said 'okay' - and I told him that he wasn't allowed to leave school. He didn't like that!
"I wouldn't let him anywhere near Formula One until everything about him was ready. I have a philosophy [and] that philosophy is all about perfection. I like everything in order. I like everything done properly. Winning is about getting the details right and I do believe that you need to get all the details right."
Dennis has often been perceived as arrogant and aloof, something that now appears, in some quarters, to have been passed on to his protégé - but the veteran team boss insists that Hamilton is not as he is made out to be.
"People say Lewis is aggressive, that he's arrogant, but he is not - definitely not," he claimed, "He wants to win and, sometimes, people see that positivity as arrogance, but they're wrong. He is a remarkably level-headed young man - and you have to remember he is still maturing."
Dennis has admitted that he may now be prepared to step back from the helm at McLaren's F1 operation in order to concentrate on other areas of the company, but it appears that he will have Hamilton under the same roof for some time, after the Briton admitted that he would be prepared to end his F1 career with the Woking giant.