Dennis stepping down at McLaren

WOKING, England -- Ron Dennis will step down as team principal of the McLaren Formula One racing team and hand over control to Martin Whitmarsh.

Winner of seven constructors' titles with the team, Dennis helped Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen, Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton win 10 world drivers' championships.

The 61-year-old Dennis, who has been team principal since 1981, said Friday he would step down on March 1 but will stay on in his other roles with the McLaren group.

"It's time for Martin to take over as team principal," he said. "On March 1 he will adopt that responsibility. I will still go to races but not all of them because I am passionate about Formula One."

Whitmarsh is McLaren's head of operations, having joined the team in 1989.

Dennis made the announcement at the end of a news conference to launch the new McLaren F1 car for the 2009 season at team headquarters in Woking.

"Don't say in any way, shape or form it's any form of retirement," he said. "I still have my other responsibilities to the group. But the team has to have 100 percent. It's my decision, it is what I wanted to do and I intend to work much harder."

Dennis will keep his 15 percent share in the group.

"Our objective this season is to win both championships," said Dennis, whose team lost last season's constructors' title to Ferrari by 21 points. Hamilton, a McLaren driver, won the drivers' title.

Dennis is looking ahead to the first Grand Prix on March 29 in Melbourne, Australia.

"But the first target is to win the first Grand Prix and the rest of the season will follow on," he said. "It's up to how we use the team between now and Melbourne."