Mansour Ojjeh, one of the driving forces behind McLaren and a main shareholder since the early 1980s, has died at the age of 68.
Although he shunned the limelight, the visionary Mansour helped to develop the McLaren brand into the powerful entity it is today. By providing input into all the key strategic decisions made by the company over the decades and by which have seen it expand far beyond its roots as a Formula 1 team.
Mansour followed in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his father Akram Ojjeh. Born in Syria, Ojjeh Sr won a physical education scholarship in France, where he subsequently married his wife Irene. Akram established his credentials as a businessman and industrialist, involved in areas such as construction, real estate and airlines, dealing mainly between France and Saudi Arabia.
He was granted citizenship by the latter country, and was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the former. In 1975, he founded TAG Group, an acronym of Techniques d’Avant Garde, as a holding company for his many investments.
Mansour studied at the American School in Paris, and then earned a business degree at Menlo College in northern California. He later studied law at the University of Santa Clara, before switching courses and earning a master’s in business administration.
The Ojjeh family and TAG Group first became involved in motor racing in 1978. That same year, Saudia Airlines sponsored the Williams team, and several other Saudi-related corporate names soon appeared on the car, including TAG.
In 1979, TAG Group became a main Williams sponsor, with Mansour as the company’s familiar representative in the paddock, along with his younger brother Aziz.
In 1980, Alan Jones gave Williams its first world championship while proudly carrying the TAG logo. Keke Rosberg scored a second title victory in 1982.
Although he enjoyed being part of the success as a Williams sponsor, Mansour’s vision and ambitions for TAG Group helped build what McLaren is today. With an investment to fund the development of a new turbo engine, TAG Turbo Engines was created. The TAG engine first appeared in the back of a McLaren in a grand prix in August 1983, with Niki Lauda urging Porsche and the team to fast track its development.
It was honed so quickly that in 1984 Lauda and his new team-mate Alain Prost dominated the world championship, and the TAG name became synonymous with that success. Lauda won the title by half a point at the season finale in Portugal, and Mansour hosted a spectacular celebration for the Austrian that evening.
By the end of the 1984 season, Ojjeh had scaled down TAG’s involvement as a sponsor of Williams and agreed to invest in McLaren, and he became a major shareholder.
The TAG engine earned two more world championships with Prost in 1985 and 1986, and it was still winning races in 1987, in the face of stiff competition from Williams and Honda. At the end of that season the TAG engines were retired from service, never to be used again in any form of competition.
From 1988, McLaren had a new engine partner in Honda, a new team-mate for Prost in the form of Ayrton Senna. Mansour and TAG remained key players in the organisation through the remarkable Honda era, contributing to four more world championships shared between two of the greatest drivers in history between 1988 and 1991.
Some difficult years followed Honda’s departure, and Mansour played a role in the decision to join forces with Mercedes for the 1995 season. It was the start of a new era for the team. Mika Häkkinen would win the world championship in 1998 and 1999, while Lewis Hamilton would add another title in 2008.
A man with great vision, Mansour supported the expansion of McLaren’s interests. He founded TAG Electronics, which became a major supplier to the motorsport and motoring industry, and was later renamed McLaren Electronics, and now supplies ECUs to all F1, INDYCAR and NASCAR teams.
He was one of the driving forces behind the birth of the McLaren F1 road car, having first had the idea of creating the ultimate supercar while still involved with Williams in the Eighties. Although not originally conceived as a racer, the F1 GTR would win Le Mans in 1995.
In 2010, he backed the founding of McLaren Automotive, kick-starting the marque’s hugely successful return to road car production. He also actively supported the creation of McLaren Applied Technologies.
Mansour also had many interests and investments outside McLaren. The TAG name gained further international recognition when he bought watch company and McLaren timing partner Heuer in 1985. He would build TAG Heuer into a major international brand, before selling the company in 1999.
He also founded TAG Aviation, a major supplier of charter jet services worldwide, and bought the UK’s Farnborough Airport, along with a string of other business interests.
In 2013, Mansour underwent a double lung transplant, having suffered with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He recovered well, and far from slowing down, he became even more involved with McLaren by taking on an executive role in early 2017.
Mansour is survived by his wife Kathy, a remarkable supporter of McLaren on and off the grid, and their four children, Lana, Lia, Sara and Sultan.