Dennis steps down at McLaren over Hamilton row

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

McLaren said in a statement that Dennis was taking on a new position as executive chairman of McLaren Automotive, leading the company's 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 in a statement.

"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."

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, 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."

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

McLaren, who were fined a record $100 million and stripped of all their constructors' points in 2007 for a spying controversy involving Ferrari data, have been summoned to appear before the FIA's world motor sports council later this month.

The company said Whitmarsh, currently with the team in China, 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.