By Rosa Elena Torres | Jo Ramírez is a living legend in racing with a long history in Formula One with teams such as Ferrari, Tyrrell and AAR. His longest tenure was at McLaren Formula One as a team coordinator, working with drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Pedro de la Rosa, Mika Häkkinen, Gerhard Berger, and many others. After he retired, he wrote his autobiography: “Jo Ramírez: Memoirs of a Racing Man”.
Just before the interview, Ramírez said: “This is an easy question because the 1988 McLaren Formula One Team is my dream team. I was already there, I lived it, and my fantasy team exists! [smiles]
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Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Senna because he was the best (driver) in the world, no doubt. I’ve never seen any other driver in a qualifying lap that can extract that much from a car, from the engine, from everything…
Prost because it’s very easy to get on with him; he never brought his manager to the circuit or things like that. It’s extremely easy to work with Prost, a driver who was completely unable to make mistakes, and he’s as fast enough to be in the first row or clinch pole. That’s why he won so many races, and he would have been the world champion more times, but the rules betrayed him in some years.
I choose Adrian Newey. He’s an exceptionally good designer. Each year the rules change, and he finds something where you can get more out of it. He always gets there. He’s a brilliant chap, a very serious character. However, he’s a man that you can talk with, you can suggest something, and he listens to you. If your suggestion is good, he will adopt it and uses it for car development.
If you look at his cars, you can see that all parts of them were very thoroughly designed. You don’t see something that was an afterthought. All was done to make the car balanced and make it fast in every aspect. Collaborating with Adrian was satisfying because you always know that you’ll get good results with him.
Back then, Ron Dennis was the best, no doubt. I’ve learned a lot from him. He gave me the best advice (never accept a no as an answer). He would achieve whatever his goal was. He was eager to have the best people in the team, which is why he was so successful for many years. Also, he was incredibly good at getting sponsors. He could sell freezers to the Eskimos.
Dennis was a trendsetter. In McLaren, we were the first to paint the floor of the garage at the tracks. In the pits, we were the first to install all the lights and cables above, not to bother the people while working; we’re the first to put panels; the first to set up the same layout in the pits that we had in the facilities at the factory so that the boys could work in a better way. He started it all, and later other teams copied us. Ron Dennis will go down in F1 history as one of the greats.
In those days, the Team Principal was also the owner. That’s Ron Dennis. He took care of the big projects, signing the drivers, dealing with sponsors and the financial stuff. He would do what was necessary to provide the team with everything that was needed.
On my first day in McLaren, he told me: “I know that in the last years you were leading small teams as team manager, managing the money that comes in and how it’s spent. Here you don’t have to worry about how the money gets here. You only need to spend it well. If you need something, purchase it.” We were the first F1 team to have a four-post rig. All engineers said that we needed one, and Ron authorised us to buy it, even though the price was close to one million dollars.
The McLaren MP4/4 is a car that was designed by Steve Nichols, not by Adrian Newey. A car that you look at even now, and it doesn’t have anything extra. It’s very clean, and the rear and the front wing are quite simple. The sidepods and all other components are well-thought. I don’t want to say it was a simple car, but it had an uncomplicated design. It was just clean. It’s also a light car with a pretty light rear wing.
I like the 2006 McLaren MP4/21. It was painted with an incredible special paint, which was difficult to prepare. I’m not sure if it could be used nowadays. They use matt paint now because it weighs less. In those days, Ron (Dennis) didn’t worry too much about the paint weight, unlike the image of the sponsors.
Dealing with the sponsors was another good thing about Ron. There were sponsors with McLaren for years and years, such as Marlboro, Shell, Mercedes, and later Mobil, because he treated them not as sponsors but as partners. It was important for him to have a beautiful car that looked presentable.