When McLaren unveiled their new challenger for the 2014 season at an online launch last Friday, there was a distinct air of optimism in the Woking factory.
In truth, attitudes could hardly have been anything else but optimistic after a disastrous 2013 season that saw not a single podium finish to the famous team’s name.
But the real reason for the upswing in the moods of the McLaren staff has to be the return of Ron Dennis to the role of CEO. It was announced only a week before the launch that Dennis would be returning to retake control of the ailing team in an attempt to turn around its fortunes.
Dennis is a proven winner. Since joining the team in 1981, he has guided the team to seven constructors’ titles and 10 drivers’ titles. It is an impressive CV that Dennis is determined to add more titles to, as he outlined in a statement on BBC Sport after regaining control of the team.
Over the coming weeks, I intend to undertake a thorough and objective review of each of our businesses with the intention of optimising every aspect of our existing operations, while identifying new areas of growth that capitalise on our technologies, and where appropriate further investing in them.
During February, I will articulate a new Group strategy and implement the organisational structure best suited to achieving it.
Part of Dennis’ success story is that he is not only a great team leader but a great man manager as well. Of course he had his problems in diffusing the turbulent driver relations between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna and more recently Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
But he also managed to get the very best out of drivers such as Senna and Button by taking them under his wing, acting as a friend, advisor and father figure.
Having recently lost his own father to a suspected sudden heart attack, McLaren’s lead driver Jenson Button said it was the words of Dennis who inspired him to continue in the sport, as quoted in The Independent.
I have spoken with him [Dennis] a lot in the last few days, we’ve had some good chats but about other things, not many about his expectations for the team. Everything goes through your mind, that’s all I have to say on it.
As a team we are very excited about Ron’s role as CEO again. This is a team built by Ron in the early days and he helped it to win multiple World Championships. For me that’s the exciting thing about this year. And you do need change sometimes. He is very excited about his new role and very hungry, so hungry to succeed. That’s great for the team and, hopefully, it will get back to its winning ways.
The radical new aerodynamic and engine regulation changes should help McLaren further, as they started work on their 2014 challenger earlier than most of their rivals when 2013 season spiralled out of control.
Then there’s the 2015 tie-up with Honda. In partnership with the Japanese engine manufacturer, Dennis guided McLaren to a quadruple of constructors’ and drivers’ titles from 1988-1991. He knows the Honda set-up well and there is no better man suited to oversee the new collaboration.
Martin Whitmarsh is the fall guy in the latest reshuffle and it appears almost certain that the highly rated Eric Boullier will take over as team boss after Lotus announced his departure on the same day of the launch.
Whitmarsh is one of the sport’s nicer guys and in truth, he was powerless to instigate a reversal in fortunes once the decision had been made to buck trend with a complete redesign of their car rather than play safe with an evolution of the MP4-27.
But as the old sporting cliché goes, nice guys don’t always finish first and Dennis is a ruthless boss who doesn’t suffer fools easily as typified by his numerous clashes with former FIA president Max Mosley.
There are a lot of noticeable similarities between Dennis and the great Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Both have a burning passion to win for the teams they have been associated with for their entire careers, both are great tacticians and man managers.
And whilst it’s highly unlikely that Ferguson will return to turn around the fortunes of the ailing United, it’s almost as likely we will see Dennis restore McLaren to champions in the coming years.