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Lewis only knew of Dennis exit `minutes before`.

Lewis Hamilton has claimed that he only knew Ron Dennis would be stepping down from his long-held role of team principal at McLaren-Mercedes 'minutes before' the news was made public – but he is adamant the change will not have any detrimental effect on his own position within the team.

Dennis announced at the launch of the Woking-based outfit's new MP4-24 challenger on Friday that he would be relinquishing the reins of the team to 'second-in-command' Martin Whitmarsh before the start of the 2009 Formula 1 campaign, after almost three decades at the helm [see separate story – click here].

Despite their close bond, however – with Dennis having effectively mentored Hamilton for more than half of his life from the age of eleven – the current world champion revealed that he had not been privy to the announcement until just before it was made, leading some to suggest that the infamous Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying spat between the pair in 2007 had to a certain extent soured the relationship beyond repair.

“I only heard Ron was standing down a couple of minutes before he announced his decision,” the recently-turned 24-year-old is quoted as having said by British newspaper the Daily Mail, “[but] the team have never been just Ron, as he says himself.

“It was close to his heart to raise me, of course. The great thing was Ron was here to witness my first world championship and to see an end to such a great journey. Now we start another one. Ron leaving his role will definitely not affect my desire to defend my world championship.

“Martin has worked closely with Ron for the last 20 years; they are like brothers. The values they have put in the team will always be here way beyond my time. The foundations are here for the team to have a sustained period of dominance.”

Hamilton was quick to praise Dennis, under whose astute stewardship McLaren claimed no fewer than ten drivers' titles and seven constructors' crowns, from his distinctly modest beginnings back in 1966 as a teenage mechanic on Jochen Rindt's Cooper Maserati.

“Ron is a very special person and has dedicated a lot of his life to helping me succeed,” underlined the youngest world champion in the top flight's 59-year history, whom Dennis plucked from the obscurity of a Stevenage council estate back in 1996. “I'm very proud to be associated with him and his team.

“Without Ron I wouldn't be here specifically in this team today, in F1, and be world champion now. [For] a huge part of my life, I have been helped by him.”

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