McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown took time out of his busy schedule at Silverstone to join us in the Champions Club, where he chatted about McLaren’s 2019 resurgence and his hopes for moving even further up the grid in 2021 when new sporting regulations come into force.
You’ve got two very exciting drivers this year, Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz Jr, both of whom you have already re-signed for next year.
Yes, I think we’ve got a great driver lineup. Both are super quick. Carlos is even quicker than we thought. Lando is driving with a lot of maturity for a 19-year-old. We would have expected a few more rookie mistakes, but instead Grosjean does that for us. With the silly season going on right now, we want to keep our head down and stay focused on our racing programme. We wanted to take our two drivers names out of the hat and let everyone else figure out who's going to drive for who.
Do you think the changes to the cars this year have helped you move up the grid?
Anytime you have change I think that's an opportunity to kind of hit the reset button. I think 2021 will be fascinating because that's going to be probably the single largest change in modern day Formula 1. But you know, we've got a lot of men and women at McLaren that have won multiple championships. They’ve been there the whole time even when we've struggled in the last few years. We’ve had to provide some leadership and some focus to unlock that talent. I think that's starting to happen now. We've had a good winter and we're moving forward, but we still have a long way to go.
You mentioned the 2021 rules shake up. Are the teams being consulted on these changes?
No, I think we probably have too much say. Ross [Brawn], Chase [Carey] and the FIA know what they're doing. They have a lot of talented people. It's been great that we've been consulted but I think that they should just get on with it now. Make some decisions and we'll all fall in line. The more you ask us our opinion, the longer we'll go on and on and on. That's exactly why the announcement of the rules has been delayed from June to October. It's because the teams can’t align on much. I prefer they just take the lead and get on with it because I think we've all inputted now and now it's time for some decisions to be made.
Fans want more overtaking, but engine noise also gets mentioned frequently. Will we stay with the turbo-hybrid engines in 2021 or get something louder?
I think we're set. I'd like to hear louder engines. I'd like V10s or V12s. I'd like more variety in the sport. I'm of the view that if you lock the budget cap down but then actually open up the rules you would have more creativeness. With everything so prescriptive these days, if you took the livery off these cars it would be pretty hard to tell them apart. I'd rather fix a budget and then say, “Do what you want. You want six wheels? Have six wheels.”
What do you think is the best level for the budget cap?
I think $125 to $150 million [USD] would be plenty. That's a lot of money to go on two race cars. The reality is that it's going to be about $250 million. It's a lot more than that now with no cap. I think with that cap you'll see four or five teams, us being one of them, that can run at that level. I think it would be great to see all ten teams playing with the same size bat, so to speak, to use a baseball term. I think you'd probably still have the best teams winning the championship, but you'll have the odd surprise winner. If we can get Formula 1 to a place where maybe 10 drivers can win I think it will make a more exciting show for the fans.
Vietnam and Holland join the F1 calendar next year. As a racer yourself, is there any country or track you’d like to see F1 visit?
I think Vietnam is going to be great. I’ve seen the track layout and that's been designed with overtaking in mind. I think that's going to be exciting. I think that Zandvoort is going to be a great event. Having raced there, I’m a little concerned. It's pretty narrow so making sure that we can get some good racing going there, but there are going to make some changes to the circuit.
We also need a second race in the U.S. That's the biggest market. From a commercial standpoint, Formula 1 is not nearly as big there is as it can be. Putting my commercial hat on, I'd like to see another race there. China's also a big place. So, I think only racing there once a year, like America, we are not making enough of a dent in that market. And then maybe South Africa. I’d like to personally race 25 to 30 times a year. But I'm not sure everyone else does!
Liberty Media have been running Formula 1 for around 2.5 years. How would you rate their performance so far out of ten?
Good question. I think an 8/10, but it's early days. In 2021, they will have their first opportunity to really change the product, so it’s hard to score them on that. Where they've focused, which I think is great, is on the fans. For so long the sport has been developed around what we think in the Paddock. At the end of the day, the racetracks and the broadcasters need new fans, which will bring in more sponsors. I don't think the sport, historically, has spent enough time focusing on the fans, but that's exactly what Liberty has jumped into with programmes like F1 Experiences. They are engaging with the fans, which is fantastic. And I think if we get the fan experience right everything else will take care of itself.
The McLaren of today is said to be much more open, accountable and honest. Are you proud to hear that?
It's an unbelievable racing team. I grew up idolizing drivers like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. To be able to show up to work every day and be part of McLaren is such an honour. It's an unbelievable place. You look down what we have called “The Boulevard” to see Senna’s car, Lauda’s car, Häkkinen’s car. I’m just one of the members. I'm the quarterback but it takes a complete team to have success and I love showing up to work.
What's your favourite McLaren from history?
It has to be the MP4/4. It was so dominant in that season . Senna and Prost were unbelievable. Senna was my hero, as he was for many, and that was his first World Championship. I'd have to say that car ticks all the boxes, even though I can't actually fit inside it!
Can McLaren compete with a budget cap of $250m USD?
Yeah, that's exactly where we're racing now. So, we can compete. That’s good news. It'll bring Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, who have been spending north of $300-400m USD, closer to us. But if I take my McLaren hat off, I'd like to see more teams able to compete at that level. The budget cap will close the gap to the Williams of the world, but they are still not going to be able to compete financially at that level. But from a McLaren standpoint, which is all I really care about, I think we're in a good place.
Are you planning to do factory tours at the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking?
Well one thing that I'm working on is a museum for the MTC. I want to show people our factory. You’ll be able to come in and learn about the history of McLaren in the museum, then see the cars. Stay tuned. It's a work in progress. Fan engagement and talking to our fans, letting them experience McLaren, is something that's super important to us.
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