Victory for Ron - but problems too

MCLAREN dominated the Le Mans 24 Hour sportscar race in France last weekend with its customer F1 GT cars finishing 1-3-4-5 in the classic endurance event. Victory went to former Grand Prix drivers Yannick Dalmas (his third Le Mans win) and JJ Lehto, partnered by Japanese driver Masanori Sekiya.

In Grand Prix racing, however, McLaren is still struggling to be competitive as team boss Ron Dennis searches for a driver to replace Nigel Mansell and a top designer.

The team has not won a World Championship since 1991 - three and a half seasons - and it is a season and half since McLaren last won a race. These statistics will not have pleased McLaren's principal sponsor Marlboro, which is used to winning more; and the focus of the tobacco company's attention seems these days to have shifted slightly towards Ferrari, which is also heavily supported by Marlboro money.

In order to reverse the slide, Dennis needs a top designer to attract a top driver. Gerhard Berger would probably join the team if displaced at Ferrari by Michael Schumacher; but as Benetton becomes more competitive, the German becomes ever more likely to stay where he is and there is no reason why Berger should move.

Dennis has tried to hire Adrian Newey from Williams and Gary Anderson from Jordan. He has had talks with Alan Jenkins at Arrows, and there are even rumors that he has tried to poach Rory Byrne from Benetton; but none of the designers seem to want to work for McLaren. Dennis's prime target now is believed to be his former McLaren partner John Barnard, who is currently leading the revival at Ferrari. The two fell out badly when they split up, but both are pragmatists and would probably work together again if they could decide on a sensible division of responsibilities.

Could it happen? Dennis seems to have little choice but to try. If he managed to get hold of Barnard, Berger would probably follow - he is a big fan of Barnard - but time is running out for Ron if he wants a Barnard car for 1996. Time is also running out with Marlboro and Ron knows it...

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