Formula One: New McLaren boss unfazed by meeting with ex-chief

McLaren Honda's British driver Jenson Button powers his car during the third practice session of the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix.
McLaren Honda's British driver Jenson Button powers his car during the third practice session of the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Zak Brown could be forced to defuse a tense meeting with Ron Dennis, the man whose job he has taken at McLaren, should they meet at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix this weekend.

Brown was announced as McLaren's new executive director on Monday.

But that also makes the 45-year-old Californian the new Dennis, who was put on gardening leave last week by the team which he could claim to have created over the past 35 years, propelling them to 17 world championships.

As Brown left the McLaren headquarters in Woking, near London, in a chauffeur-driven car on Monday night, he told The Times in his first interview that he was "like a kid in a candy store".

However, his next call was to Dennis, who originally offered him the job before the Englishman himself was unceremoniously dumped.

It is thought that Dennis may travel to Abu Dhabi this weekend to meet his many contacts in the Middle East, but that would bring him face to face with the successor appointed within a week of the former chief executive's exit.

Brown will be wearing McLaren team kit, but Dennis will be in his customary combination of immaculate shirt and slacks. A meeting will hold no fear for Brown as Dennis had already anointed the American as a potential successor.

"I am a massive fan of Ron and all he has done," Brown said. "Ron created a fantastic racing team. From my standpoint, it will be business as usual.

"I have known Ron as long as I have been connected with Formula One and have done many deals with him. I will invite him to dinner as I always have."

There will probably be a collective sigh of relief in the futuristic McLaren headquarters where staff will face a future under a very different personality to the authoritarian Dennis.

Brown has a deep, gruff American drawl but is friendly, open and more collegiate in approach. He is also extremely well connected in motor racing.

Also on Monday, Lewis Hamilton said the odds are firmly stacked against him as he bids to win the drivers' championship on Sunday.

Hamilton, winner of the last three races, is 12 points behind leader Nico Rosberg.

The 31-year-old Briton knows that, even if he wins, his Mercedes team-mate needs only a top-three finish to clinch a maiden championship.

"It's not been a perfect season and I'm faced with pretty impossible odds no matter what I do this weekend," said Hamilton. "I can't and won't give up. You never know what might happen - however unlikely it may seem.

"I'll be proud of myself and what I've achieved as long as I feel I've given my all and performed my best."

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'New McLaren boss unfazed by meeting with ex-chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe