Features - Interview
DECEMBER 1, 1991
Four out of four: Ron Dennis
BY JOE SAWARD
"I think," he says, "that we became uncompetitive and had to work very hard to regain our position. It is more difficult to return to competitiveness than to maintain it, because you not only have to catch up, you have to overtake. That's not easy, but it is more satisfying."
Some would argue that it is not McLaren which wins races, but other teams which lose them.
'I think some teams are struggling to get even remotely competitive,' explains Dennis, 'and that does make it easier to score top five placings with, how I shall I say, a lame car.
'But with regulations as they are at the moment every point counts. You have no margin for error and, therefore, you cannot afford to take a performance risk and go for it. You have a more cautious and conservative approach. A less exciting approach.
'Although there was a degree of confusion about the previous points structure, the quality of motor racing was better.
'There were four principal factors in our success: the drivers; the chassis; the engine and the fuel. Fuel performance has become more critical than in former years. There was more consistency in driver performance than in the other three areas. The performance of all of those tended to be linked and go up and down together. There was a concerted effort coming out of the Canadian GP, where everyone was very honest about their own performance, and in the following months the reaction of each of the companies was extremely gratifying to see. Each contributed a great deal to turning the situation around and ultimately winning the world championship.'
What about Ayrton Senna? How important was he, both as driver and a motivating force?
'I wouldn't call Ayrton a motivating force,' says Dennis surprisingly. 'He has a style of which I am not always supportive. It pressurises a situation. It is his way, but I think it sometimes lacks a degree of sophistication. You never stop learning in life and Ayrton is no exception. He is becoming more polished but this is one area is not always constructive. It is still an area in which he has a degree of inexperience.
'Where he does inspire is his total commitment. That commitment is there whether he has the best equipment or not. You can motivate yourself, and other people, to match that commitment in adversity. That is why I think the team always gets the best out of what is has.
What about his Suzuka outburst?
'I think his own phraseology was reasonably accurate,' explains Ron. 'I think it was ill-considered and inappropriate at the time and tended to take the shine off a glowing performance of all aspects of the team. I think he learned from that and his behaviour at subsequent press events has been exemplary. How a world champion should be.'
And Gerhard Berger?
'He has made tremendous progress,' says Dennis. 'He took a heavy mental blow being outqualified by Ayrton in Phoenix, having worked so hard through the winter. That was hard to accept, but in the course of the year he has really come to grips with the whole performance package and has been very aggressive, very consistent and very quick. I am confident that this is going to flow into next year and he is going to really put a lot of pressure on Ayrton.'
After so much success in recent years, does Dennis ever find himself losing interest?
'I find losing very painful,' he laughs, 'and if you find yourself lacking motivation the best way to get it back again is to recall the emotion you felt when you last failed. I was not particularly pleased with my own performance last year. I think there were some weaknesses in many areas, some perhaps too personal to mention, but more generally it is when you catch yourself losing focus - not a lack of focus on F1 but a lack of focus within it. Afterwards it makes you think: I didn't do a particularly good job.
'My motivation for 1992 is not so much to win the world championship - which is an obvious objective - but to improve my own performance and to try and convey to everyone else in the company the reasoning behind adopting a similar attitude themselves.'
So ambition still burns?
'Yes,' he laughs again. 'I still have ambition. I still have a desire to do a few things better than they have been done in the past. There are a few interesting milestones which I would like to see McLaren International pass. I'd like to have more GP wins than any other team in history. That's not so far off.
'I'd like to see the resources of the group more focussed and logistically better, but more than anything I'd like to reach a business peace of mind, meaning that if required the chapter in McLaren history of which I am a part could draw to an end and a new chapter start, which would be representative of the future management's own style. I'd like to achieve that as quickly as possible so the option of continuing, extending the chapter, retiring or following other interests presents itself. I have to get to a certain point in my own mind before making these evaluations. I don't see that as coming in months, but rather in years.'
Good news for McLaren perhaps, bad news for McLaren's opposition...