Mansour Ojjeh: Key McLaren figure dies, aged 68

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
Mansour Ojjeh and Lewis Hamilton
Mansour Ojjeh and Lewis Hamilton worked together at McLaren

Mansour Ojjeh, a major shareholder in McLaren and a key figure in the history of the team for nearly 40 years, has died aged 68.

The Paris-born Saudi billionaire bought into McLaren in 1984 and was a driving force in their huge success alongside his former business partner Ron Dennis.

A statement from McLaren said the team "mourn his loss with deep sadness".

Ojjeh maintained a low-profile public persona but was instrumental in McLaren successes over a lengthy period.

His place on the boards of both McLaren Racing and the company's Group had already been taken by his son, Sultan, 29.

Ojjeh's career spanned McLaren winning 10 drivers' titles, with Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton, and nine constructors' championships, through engine partnerships with Porsche, Honda and Mercedes.

Ojjeh had eased his involvement in McLaren following a double lung transplant in 2013, but recovered in time to play a key role in the ousting from the company of Dennis. The two former friends had fallen out some years before over a personal matter.

McLaren Racing chief executive officer Zak Brown said: "Mansour was a true racer in every sense. Ultra-competitive, determined, passionate and, above all, perhaps his defining characteristic: sporting. No matter the intensity of the battle, Mansour always put sport first.

"Mansour was a titan of our sport, yet modest, unassuming and disarming to all he encountered. His easy manner, sharp wit and warm humour touched all those who were fortunate to know him."

A joint statement from Mercedes F1 team principal Toto Wolff and parent company Daimler's chair Ola Kallenius said: "Mansour was a business icon with a deep passion for racing.

"Together with Ron Dennis at McLaren, he set a new benchmark for how a Formula One team could be run, and Mercedes enjoyed iconic moments together with them over many years of partnership.

"Mansour was also a tenacious fighter - and a true and loyal friend. He will be sadly missed."

Hamilton said he had a "heavy heart after the loss of a close friend". The seven-time champion said Ojjeh "had the biggest heart and always carried the biggest smile - I am so grateful to have known such a man".

F1 president Stefano Domenicali said: "He was someone with incredible talent, passion and energy and was a giant of our sport. I will miss him greatly and so will the whole F1 community."

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who raced for McLaren in 2007 and again from 2015-2018, said: "So sad for this. One of the best people I have ever met in this sport and a man with a big heart. Will be truly missed."

A quietly glittering career

Ojjeh's involvement in F1 started when his Techniques d'Avant Garde company sponsored Williams in the late 1970s - with world titles following in 1980 and 1982.

Dennis persuaded Ojjeh to go to McLaren and to fund the development of a turbo engine from Porsche, which made its debut late in the 1983 season.

In 1984, the McLaren-Tag Porsche dominated F1, the team winning 12 of 16 races and Lauda beating team-mate Prost to the title by the smallest margin in history, half a point.

It was the start of a series of waves of success in which McLaren intermittently dominated the sport.

Prost went on to win the 1985 and 1986 championships, before the team switched to Honda engines from 1988 and started a new era of domination following the signing of Senna.

Senna and Prost won 15 of 16 races in 1988, the Brazilian clinching the title, before the Frenchman's won again in 1989. Senna followed suit in 1990 and 1991 following Prost's departure.

Further titles followed in 1998 and 1999 with Hakkinen, and in 2008 with Hamilton.

Former McLaren racing director Eric Boullier described Ojjeh as "one of the legends of the paddock" and said it had been an "honour" to work with him.