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Exclusive interview - McLaren's Ron Dennis 25 Jan 2008

McLaren team principal Ron Dennis Ron Dennis (GBR) McLaren Team Owner. McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Launch, Stuttgart, Germany, 7 January 2008. World © Bumstead/Sutton McLaren sign Lewis Hamilton until the end of 2012 season. (L-R): Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) CEO McLaren, Ron Dennis (GBR) McLaren Team Prinicpal and Lewis Hamilton (GBR). Hamilton Extends McLaren Contract, Woking, England, 18 January 2008. © McLaren Heikki Kovalainen tests the McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, Jerez, Spain, 11 January 2008. © McLaren Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23. Formula One Testing, Day Three, Jerez, Spain, Wednesday 16 January 2008. World © Hartley/Sutton

The Rolling Stones famously sung ‘yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone’ in their record Ruby Tuesday - a line that McLaren might do well to adopt as their 2008 motto following the events of last season. And looking at how their drivers and the new MP4-23 have been performing in recent tests, it looks as if it might be coming true.

With the strain of last year firmly behind him, star driver Lewis Hamilton signed up until 2012, and new arrival Heikki Kovalainen safely ensconced at Woking, team principal Ron Dennis is looking pretty relaxed as he eyes greater success in ‘08…

Q: There were obviously a few problems with team dynamics last year. Have you taken any active measures to avoid a recurrence in 2008, or do you not anticipate it being a concern?
Ron Dennis:
When, in the future, motorsport historians come to look back on 2007, and when they begin to look beyond all the controversies that dominated the headlines at the time, they'll see that, although neither Lewis nor Fernando (Alonso) won the world drivers’ championship, they both won a lot of races and scored a lot of points. In other words, on track, 2007 was a relatively successful year for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. However, it goes without saying that we hope 2008 will be better still. We've always treated our drivers equally, and we intend to continue to do so. This year, both Lewis and Heikki are entirely happy with that policy, and I anticipate no problems from either of them in that regard. I expect them to be competitive and collaborative in equal measure.

Q: Lewis went through bitter disappointment at the end of last season. Some would say that inexperience cost him the title. How do you think the ‘2008 Lewis’ will differ from the ‘2007 Lewis’?
RD:
Like all able and ambitious racing drivers, Lewis wants to win. So, yes, he was understandably disappointed to have been beaten to the world drivers’ championship at the final hurdle last year. Having said that, I think your phrase ‘bitter disappointment’ needs to be put into context. Lewis won four Grands Prix and missed the world drivers' championship by a single point - a record-breaking feat for a rookie. As such, he had a marvellous first season in Formula One. He's still only 23, he's still learning, and he's still improving.

Q: A five-year driver contract is rather unusual in Formula One racing - even considering the fact that Lewis has been an ‘in-house development’. Does this contract contain a pull-out clause, for both sides?
RD:
I'm sorry, but you know I'm not going to answer that one. As with almost all F1 teams, it isn't Vodafone McLaren Mercedes’ policy to go into great detail when discussing our drivers' contracts. Suffice to say that, as Lewis himself has said, he's delighted to have signed such a long contract with Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and could easily envisage spending his entire Formula One career with us.

Q: Heikki climbed a very steep learning curve last year, culminating in a superb podium in Japan. Do you think he has what it takes to genuinely push Lewis, or will Lewis’s experience with the team give him the edge in ’08?
RD:
Watching him from the sidelines, and then studying our findings, we at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes thought Heikki looked impressive in 2007 - and he's impressing us already in 2008. Having said that, though, I want to add that he's a delightful individual: easy-going yet hard-working. Talented, of course, too. So we're delighted to have been able to bring him into the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 'family'. As regards pushing Lewis, that isn't the way we look at it. No, Heikki is already integrating himself into our team and our company, and we fully expect him to perform well for us this season.

Q: The whole Ferrari spy scandal affair is behind you. However, you did have to agree to halt development on certain systems on the new car. How will this handicap you in 2008?
RD:
Not at all.

Q: The 2007 season was effectively a two-horse race between McLaren and
Ferrari. Do you see any other genuine threats for 2008?
RD:
We at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes never under-estimate our opposition, and we won't do so this year. However, our race, if you like, is with ourselves: our team of engineers, at both McLaren and at Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines, is constantly striving to develop our car, and our hope and belief is that we'll do it better and more rapidly than our competitors will.

Q: Fernando claimed last year that he was responsible for improving your car’s pace. Do you think his influence will be enough to make Renault podium contenders again in 2008?
RD:
As I say, our race is with ourselves. We respect all our competitors, but we don't spend a lot of time worrying about them.

Q: The FIA are looking to cap development budgets from next season. Is this practical? What do you see as the best way forward for controlling costs in Formula One?
RD:
These matters are best decided behind closed doors. It wouldn't be either helpful or constructive if I were to discuss such issues openly on a website.

Q: You and Max Mosley have never had the easiest of relationships. You no doubt appreciate his job is a difficult one, but how would you do things differently if you were FIA President? Are there other directions in which you’d like to take the sport?
RD:
As Max has frequently said in the past, commentators tend to exaggerate the level of personal discord that exists between him and me. As regards the FIA Presidency, I've never aspired to it in the past and I don't aspire to it now. It's the running of a company that motivates me, not the governance of a sport.