As had been suggested, Ron Dennis has announced that he is to officially step down from his role of team principal at McLaren-Mercedes before the start of the 2009 Formula 1
campaign – passing on the mantle to the squad's current CEO Martin Whitmarsh.
Rumours first began to sweep the F1 paddock in 2007 that Dennis would soon relinquish his role, following a season marred by a tempestuous and ultimately destructive relationship with former double world champion Fernando Alonso, the infamous 'Spygate' saga that culminated in an unprecedented £100 million fine and divorce from his wife of 22 years, Lisa.
The 61-year-old has held the most powerful position at the Woking-based outfit for almost three decades, since 1981, during which time his expertise has helped to lead the team to no fewer than ten drivers' crowns and seven constructors' titles.
Now, however, he has confirmed that he is to hand over the day-to-day running of the team to long-time 'number two' Whitmarsh as of 1 March, 28 days before the season curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, a race won last year by Dennis' young protégé Lewis Hamilton.
He had hinted at the time that he wanted to remain in charge at least until the Stevenage-born ace clinched the drivers' world championship, an achievement that the 24-year-old pulled off in only his second campaign in the top flight in 2008.
Dennis has previously insisted that retirement per se
is not an option, but has expressed interest in focussing more time on other projects within the McLaren
Group, of which he is chairman, CEO and 15 per cent owner.
“It's time for Martin to take over as team principal,” he said at the launch of the new MP4-24 in Woking today. “This is a job he will embrace, and from now most race-day decisions will be his.
“This is the right time for this decision, but let me make one thing clear – this is very definitely not retirement. In fact it is the exact opposite. I intend to work even harder from now on, and it's because I intend to work even harder – on growing the McLaren
Group – that I've decided to pass the role of team principal of McLaren-Mercedes to Martin.
“In any case, this announcement won't change a great deal because Martin and I already jointly take all the major decisions that affect this company. What today's decision means is that Martin will now become solely responsible for the performance of McLaren-Mercedes and will be entrusted to ensure the team remains a competitive force in Formula 1