Features - Interview
AUGUST 1, 1992
BY JOE SAWARD
At the TAG/McLaren motorhome everything was in order - as it always is. Lots of grey tones, smoked glass, potted plants and a subtle dayglo pin-stripe. A calm island in the stormy F1 paddock.
The only odd thing is that Ron Dennis is not there. He's late - and that's not like him at all.
He's running half an hour behind schedule by the time he arrives.
"I've got to make a phone call," he says, disappearing into the bus. Then there are hands to shake.
Finally, looking a bit weary, he sits down. Right, let's get things straight. The rumour-mill is working overtime about Honda's withdrawal, what are the facts?
"I think the accurate statement about Honda is that we have been told many times through the last few months and that was confirmed in the middle of last week - and again this week - that no decision has been taken. We understand very clearly the situation within Honda and we accept that a decision cannot be taken any sooner."
But surely a September decision is no good for McLaren. The F1 driver market could be turned upside-down by then.
"Of course we would like to know," says Ron, "but one reacts to the situation."
How is McLaren reacting to this situation?
"Explaining to you what McLaren's position is would be inappropriate."
"Ayrton is an individual who is totally committed to winning races," says Ron. "He is at a stage in his career where he wants to put himself always in that position - irrespective of the position that McLaren has. He must choose his own way forward. If he has an opportunity which provides him with a better chance of winning GPs, I completely understand that he will take that opportunity. I am sure he will. I wouldn't expect him to be any different. I know how he thinks, I know how he works. He's won three World Championship and he wants to win a fourth. If another team can give him a better opportunity, I am sure he will take that."
Has he told you he is going?
"No, he has not said that," says Dennis. "We have a difficult situation because the future of McLaren - which is of course my responsibility - requires me to develop every single option, both from a engine and a driver point of view. It is difficult to share what those options are. It could well be that the person with whom you are sharing those options subsequently does not constitute a part in the future and then he has complete awareness of what the strategy is. I would prefer relationships with drivers which were a little bit more based on the concept of marriage - "for better and for worse". Then you solve the problems as and when they come along. I know that isn't the way Ayrton's mind works. I understand and accept that. It is the nature of his personality and I don't feel any animosity."
What about a time scale for decisions? The drifting in limbo cannot go on. Can it?
"Unfortunately in this a business in which you rarely find yourself controlling the timing of these things," says Ron. "I am obviously keen to find a good solution. I do consider that the future is more than 1993 and, therefore, if it takes a little more time to get a more strategic approach than some options represent I would prefer to wait and end up with the best possible package."
Does that mean he is willing to write off 1993 as an uncompetitive year and build for a strong package in 1994?
"McLaren's core business is - and always has been - Grand Prix racing. Of ocurse we want to be competitive, win every single race and every single championship - but that is not realistic. Fundamentally, drivers are in transit. They come and they go. What they are looking for as regards success is common to what the team is looking for. The team has to adopt a more strategic approach. Therefore a difficult year which constitutes a stronger future would be an acceptable thing for McLaren to do."
Even if Honda decides to stay in F1 for 1993, the company may pull out in 1994. In the long run, McLaren needs an engine. Or does it?
"Those are your conclusions," says Ron. "It is difficult for any manufacturer to judge the value of F1. I suppose one of the interesting legacies of the article which appeared in one of the more prestigious Japanese newspapers (suggesting Honda is pulling out of F1) was the reaction of the Honda dealers both in Japan and around the world. There is strong support for Mr Kawamoto (the Honda president) to make a decision to continue. His decision is a difficult one because of the way in which Honda participates in F1. It is an expensive way - with large quantities of human resources (because there are a lot of people who are training on the programme), difficult logistical problems and the need not to be second. There is a tremendous commitment to the programme and, therefore, the decision is quite an expensive one. I think that stop or go it wouldn't necessarily trigger off a time window. If F1 continues to serve a function as with Ford, which has been in F1 for many years and feels that F1 is an integral and essential part of its motorpsort programme. It could well be that Honda develops a similar position."
Ford is a good case, for the F1 paddock in Hockenheim was full of stories of McLaren running Ford V12s next year. Is that a possibility?
"In the event that we need a new partner in GP racing, I think you can assume that any relationship with an engine manufacturer will be a partnership - where each side tries to bring something to the common goal of winning races. It is a question of whether there is a mutually-beneficial future that can be exploited. As regards confirming or denying who we are speaking to, I think it is obvious I'm not going to make any comment."