One of these days during this tumultuous period marred by the Coronavirus lockdown, popular sports journalist Alexis Nunes was speaking to an important formerly figure at the McLaren stable.
In a free-flowing video interaction, a pretty straightforward (but pertinent) question was asked of this elite gentleman.
“What are your thoughts about leaving McLaren?”
After about a pause of no more than a second, the man remarked with quintessential simplicity, “Let me tell you honestly, I only know that of a glorious book called McLaren, I’m but a small chapter!”
Just that, he didn’t say all that much about what might have surely been the most complicated phase of his F1 life.
That was Ron Dennis at his eloquent best.
No sign of condescension. There was no sign of arrogance whatsoever!
It’s easy to boast about oneself. It doesn’t take much to transform your mortal self into a figure of eternal luminosity. You pretty much earn it if you happen to lead a successful life, having contributed to a sport for all your working life.
But hearing the insights of Ron Dennis (CBE), you understand that greats glitter in the gloom! Not to forget that the true definition of a great is someone who’s willing to go uncelebrated.
Think of the best man at a wedding. Or remember the coach of a team or the class teacher who stranger to the very plaudits that hot the award-winning student.
When Ron Dennis was shown his way out of the very team he had helped raise the fortunes of, circa 2017, this was the end of a journey that spent no fewer than three and a half decades at the highest annals of the sport.
A sport that is as relentless in exhausting you as it is subliminal in lifting your spirits at the back of a triumph.
But having been no stranger to glory, the latter years of Ron Dennis’ active F1 duties were marred by a downfall at McLaren. Sadly, the team was going nowhere; new management was being let in and the old force was on its way out.
But this was Ron Dennis being asked to leave not just any lame team but an institution of sorts; a bastion of excellence called McLaren.
We knew and understood all that Ron had been through; we were sensitive to his pains.
In 2017, McLaren, who Ron Dennis nurtured like one of his own collected no more than 37 points. Standing Ninth on the 2017 Constructor Championship, finishing just ahead of Sauber was akin to a dreadful nightmare that had come alive.
Who would’ve seen that coming?
Was this really the team that once had the likes of Lauda, Hakkinen, Senna?
Yet, during what was a painful onslaught marked by seven race-retirements for a great of the sport, on every occasion where Fernando Alonso did well enough, for instance, putting the recalcitrant McLaren into third qualifying seven times and picking up two seventh-places at Italy and Brazil- there was Ron Dennis cheering like the young man he once was.
The man we forget convinced Niki Lauda to join McLaren. And then you have the famous 1984 triumph.
The same man who helped birth the “Flying Finn” moniker because had it not been for him, we may never have seen Mika drive a McLaren.
What about that famous 1997 move over Schumi; would that have come in a better car, you wonder!
The man, we often forget, also had a hand in shaping light-hearted legends that may go onto outlive time; for instance, giving Kimi Raikkonen the nickname he’s most known for; a parallel identity called the Iceman.
It’s rather surprising but also reflective of the man that’s behind the Ron Dennis enigma that today when you speak to the famous Briton, you find he’s got less to do with the sport he was born to serve and more to do with other socially-active endeavors.
For instance, at his prime, there were two Ron Dennis on the grid. The man who was determined to make McLaren succeed; the man who shaped teams with Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, and Niki Lauda in it.
Then, there was always the “Good Samaritan,” pushed by the need to cater to a collective idea meant for greater glory.
There are always some battles you’ve got to win off the grid. Right?
So today when you find the ever-charitable Ron Dennis directing his energies toward helping the NHS (National Health Service of Great Britain) under the auspices of his daughter, you do realize this is the same man, albeit with a different zeal and focus, one that’s not got anything to do with back-breaking speeds, team-leadership, salubrious F1 venues or world championships.
Yet, if you look back on the pulsating decades spent at his peak in F1, you simply cannot imagine McLaren without Ron Dennis, the way you cannot imagine Formula 1 in absence of the timeless British constructor.
For Ron’s a career checkered with big hits.
The man under whose watch, McLaren opened their costliest and most state-of-the-art technology centre, in 2004.
The man who masterminded the Senna-Prost pairing at McLaren, that apart from the much-talked-about rivalry left a trail of greatness for others to follow. And also the man who Lewis, in some ways owes much of his career to.
Who was the keen figure wanting to give Hamilton- today, a multiple world champion- a chance back in 2008?
But big names and famous rivalries aren’t the only things glittering on a shiny racing resume.
Under Ron Dennis’ tutelage, McLaren have gone onto win seven Constructor titles and from the onset of 1984, at least six driver titles.
Yet, incredibly, it mustn’t be forgotten that back in his early twenties, Ron Dennis was once just an engineer.
It also beckons a question.
Do we actually regard what has truly been a magnificent journey that actually began on Jack Brabham’s Cooper back in the day?
And the fact that starting in his teens, prior to becoming a legend, Ron was once an assistant whom nobody knew; someone who’d make tea and run errands at Brabham racing.
Credit must be given where it’s due.
Here was an outsider, who rose to become the man who’d shape-shift the McLaren journey. He transformed a competitive team as a formidable force (at the front) that would become a multiple title-winning side.
And therefore, must we also regard that the man who drives past the checkered flag on the track isn’t the only victor; it’s often the force sitting inside the paddock that drives the direction of the team that must be credited too.