(RIGHT) A familiar
sight in 1988: McLaren
heading the field.
WHAT DENNIS AND
McLAREN DID NEXT
When Honda pulled
out of Formula 1,
to Ford customer
engines for 1993,
taking five race
wins and second in
the drivers’ points
with Ayrton Senna.
1994 was a holding
year, with a Peugeot
that was discarded
for an alliance with
that began in ’ 95
and endures to this
day, albeit as a
program since ’09.
In the fall of
1997, Dennis pulled
off a masterstroke
with the hiring
of Adrian Newey,
who’d designed the
stunning March 881,
then gone on to plot
It ensured McLaren
would be a match
for Ferrari in the late
’90s and early ’00s.
three times as many people, for example.
But it was much more than that. Ron and
the management had a clearer vision of the
future, the way the sport was growing, and
had organized accordingly for it.
“It’s not just numbers of personnel, but
the structures you need to control it.
McLaren was on top of that so early, and
that vision is what’s kept them at the top.
Even when we were going through tough
seasons, you always felt Ron and the
management were looking beyond the
next hill, and that we were always going
to be back at the front before too long.”
Dennis’s vision extended beyond just
spending more; he understood how a true
partnership, with each side committing the
other to success, was more than the sum
of its parts. The potential of this principle
had yet to be extended to an engine
partner. Despite winning titles with a
paid-for R&D project from Porsche, Dennis
wanted more. He convinced Honda how so
much more could be achieved with a true
technical partnership rather than the
traditional engine supplier/customer
relationship – which had been offered by
Honda for ’ 86, and turned down.
Honda, despite having enjoyed great
“Ron Dennis and the management
success with Williams, bought into the idea.
At a stroke, McLaren was the beneficiary of
had a clearer vision of the future,
and had organized accordingly for it”
a staggering investment from a knowledge-
thirsty company that wasn’t even trying to
measure its F1 spend against marketing
benefits, but was just heady at being on
the cutting edge of new technological
knowledge. Major corporate budget with
uncompromising racer’s mentality – it was
the dream partner for Dennis at exactly the
right moment. Honda and McLaren were
irresistibly drawn together in their almost
skewed mentality of extremes. A parallel
McLaren team was established in Japan
and Emanuele Pirro would spend his year
pounding around Suzuka with whatever
experimental engine components Honda
had dreamed up. It was like some idea of
heaven for the Honda engineers.