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Dennis era ends at troubled McLaren

MCLAREN boss Ron Dennis yesterday called time on 43 years in Formula One when he handed complete control of the company's racing affairs to team principal Martin Whitmarsh.

Dennis hands over with McLaren struggling on the racetrack and with the Mercedes-powered team facing the threat of severe sanctions off it after being found to have deliberately misled stewards in Melbourne.

McLaren's Hamilton, who has scored just one point in two races after being stripped of third place in Australia, made a public apology in Malaysia for his conduct while sporting director Dave Ryan was suspended and then dismissed.

McLaren, which was fined a record US$100 million and stripped of all its constructors' points in 2007 for a spying controversy involving Ferrari data, is due to appear before the FIA's world motor sports council later this month.

Dennis told a news conference at the team's headquarters in Woking, southern England, that the timing of his departure was "purely coincidental" and not linked to that Paris hearing.

McLaren said in a statement that Dennis would become executive chairman of McLaren Automotive, effectively walking away from the world of grands prix to lead the British-based company's new sports car business.

"I admit I'm not always easy to get on with. I admit I've always fought hard for McLaren in Formula One," Dennis said.

"I doubt if (International Automobile Federation president) Max Mosley or (Formula One supremo) Bernie Ecclestone will be displeased by my decision. But no one asked me to do it. It was my decision."

Dennis's Formula One career ranks as one of the most successful, with his team winning multiple titles with the likes of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Mika Hakkinen before nurturing the talents of current world champion Lewis Hamilton.

However, he has also clashed repeatedly with Mosley and Ecclestone over the years.

The 61-year-old Briton had already announced in January that he was stepping down as team principal, with chief executive Whitmarsh formally replacing him last month before the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Dennis, a perfectionist who started out in Formula One as a mechanic with the Cooper team in 1966 and became McLaren team principal in 1981, said he had found attending the Melbourne race to be "a strange feeling."

"The next race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, I watched on TV in the UK ?? an activity I found surprisingly easy," he added. "I'd expected to be more emotional about it, after an unbroken run of attending so many grands prix for so many years."

The company said Whitmarsh, currently preparing for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, would be responsible to the board for all of McLaren's racing activities.

McLaren Automotive is scheduled to become an independent company later in the year, with the first of a new range of Mercedes-engined McLaren sports cars due to be launched in 2011.

"With planned additional investment in the company of 250 million pounds (US$371.4 million), proposals in place for a new McLaren car production facility in the UK, and the potential for up to 800 skilled jobs, McLaren Automotive's expansion will represent a significant investment in the UK automotive industry," Dennis said in a statement.

McLaren, which is 40 percent owned by Daimler's Mercedes-Benz, has been planning for two years a new range of sportscars to follow on from the McLaren F1 sportscar (1993-1998) and current Mercedes SLR McLaren model.


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