The year ahead
Zak Brown on what 2022 holds for McLaren Racing
The start of 2022 marks a new era for Formula 1 and the next chapter in the continued progression of McLaren Racing. I am excited by the changes in store, both on and off the racetrack for our sport and our team, as we start the new year with a renewed desire to pursue success across all our endeavours.
Built on six decades of heritage, McLaren enters the new season with our racing credentials underpinned by rigorous planning and strategic investment. In Formula 1 we will soon be unveiling our new car, built to reflect the significant changes in technical regulations. We have acquired the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team and we’ll also be breaking new ground in electric technology thanks to our all-new Extreme E programme. For many reasons, everyone at McLaren is excited by the opportunities that lie ahead this year.
The past two seasons have been challenging for everyone due to the covid-19 pandemic. Not only from a human perspective but also economically and logistically. We have adapted to overcome the difficulties that have affected everyone across the globe. But as we prepare for the coming season, we are confident that throughout the various championships we compete in, the promoters, regulators and our own partners and people will confront any challenges with courage and a determination to succeed.
There are several reasons to be excited for F1 in 2022. The new technical regulations present one of the biggest resets the sport has seen. Not only will the revisions increase the unpredictability of the competitive order as we head to the first round in Bahrain, but the changes to the cars (with an emphasis on ground-effect aerodynamics) should enrich the on-track spectacle for the fans.
The impressive growth of F1 in recent years, particularly in the past two seasons in the face of a global pandemic, speaks volumes to the leadership and determination of F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and his predecessor, and now chairman, Chase Carey and their team. Delivering a record calendar in 2021 and the increase in viewership and the global fanbase is good news for the whole sport and fills me with even more optimism for the future.
We head into the new Formula 1 season with a clear aim to build on the foundations of our recent progress. In the last three years McLaren has enjoyed its best run of form for more than a decade. In 2021 we finished fourth in the FIA Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship, having amassed 275 points, just 48.5 points off third place and comfortably ahead of fifth. But we are still early in our journey to return to the front. We remain ambitious and determined but realistic.
2021 was a strong year for our two drivers, with Lando taking four podiums and his first pole position – and coming close to scoring his maiden F1 win in Russia – while Daniel took McLaren to the top step of the podium at Monza. That was a memorable day for the whole team. To achieve our first grand prix victory since 2012 and our first one-two finish for 222 races (dating back to Canada 2010) was a testament to the hard work of everyone at the track and back at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking.
Success in any organisation is truly a team effort and our on-track progress stems from strong executive leadership and the outstanding efforts of all our people across McLaren Racing. The impressive advance of our F1 team under Andreas Seidl and his technical, operational and racing departments has been underpinned by the excellent work of our communications, finance, marketing and people functions.
The combination of our talent and knowhow with investments from our shareholders, partners and robust financial stewardship has positioned us well for the next stage in our competitive journey. And our opportunity to be competitive has been underpinned with the introduction of the budget cap in F1. With the spending limit reducing to $140m this year and $135m next, the new financial regulations present us – and the sport as a whole – with a fairer framework to compete by reducing the inevitable advantage of the biggest-spending and best-resourced teams.
However, we must continue to drive economic sustainability across the sport. Some teams still look for excuses to raise the cost cap and win world championships with chequebooks. The ongoing lobbying by certain teams to increase the cost cap for sprint race damage is a continuing example. The Saturday sprint race initiative by Formula 1 has added new viewers and raised the profile of the sport to expand its global fanbase. However, these teams continue to demand a raise to the cost cap by an inordinate amount of money, despite the clear evidence that little damage was incurred during these races last year, in a thinly veiled attempt to protect from their competitive advantage being eroded.
The current governance structure of the sport enables a situation where some teams, to protect their own competitive advantage, are effectively holding the sport hostage from what’s best for the fans and therefore the sport at large. These teams seem unable to accept that a budget cap is in the best interests of the sport and cannot kick their habit of spending their way to the front.
In addition, the threat of A and B teams has not gone away, and it is vital that the governance of the sport is strengthened to prevent this. The regulations, as they stand today, are heavily biased towards B teams/customer teams which is not in line with F1’s principle of a group of genuine constructors competing with one another on even terms. It is diminishing what being an F1 ‘team’ means and the fabric of the sport.
F1 needs to be 10 true constructors, where each team – apart from sharing the PU and potentially the gearbox internals – must design and produce all parts which are performance relevant. Right now, there is too much diversity in the business models between teams. Trying to apply the same set of complex regulations to each, and then policing them effectively, is needlessly complicated and compromised as a result. This cost-capped environment should allow teams to become more recognisable entities in their own right within a realistic budget, without the concern of significant performance differences based on how much each team can spend.
In a nutshell, the current situation allows B teams to be overcompetitive compared to constructors, and A teams to be overcompetitive by having the benefit of a B team. Without a correction, the way things stand mean that any team with championship aspirations needs to have a B team in place and that simply is not Formula 1.
On top of this, the voting pressure placed by the A teams on their B teams is not consistent with the promotion of an equitable sport based on individual team merit. As I have said before – and these teams won’t admit to it – there are times when some smaller teams vote against their own interests to satisfy the agenda of their A team.
The election of Mohammed Ben Sulayem last December as the new president of the FIA provides the opportunity for collective reform of the way Formula 1 operates. It is obvious to focus on the events of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, which are the subject of an FIA investigation, but this was a symptom rather than cause in my view. There have been systemic issues around alignment and clarity on who makes the rules – the FIA or the teams – that have manifested themselves in the past couple of years, at times in a high-profile way.
The signs of organisational difficulties could be seen at the 2020 Australian Grand Prix and at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix, both hallmarked by a seeming lack of preparation for the events unfolding and temporary inertia on the solutions.
Greater clarity on the roles of the FIA and F1 and the need for increased leadership of the sport will undoubtedly be on the agenda for Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Stefano Domenicali and their respective teams. Previous administrations pursued a mainly autocratic style of governance, so to point the sport in the right direction it was necessary to take a more consultative approach with teams and stakeholders. But now the sport has been successfully reset, moving forward there is a need to shift back to stronger, more directive leadership and governance at the top of the sport.
It is clear that some of the rules and their governance are not acceptable as things stand. No one is happy with the inconsistency in the policing of the regulations, but which has been habitually exploited by teams for competitive advantage. I have said before that the teams have too much power and it needs to be reduced. We have a significant role in the drafting of the regulations and governance of Formula 1 and that influence is not always driven by what is best overall for the sport.
Yes, teams should be consulted, and their informed perspectives considered, particularly on long-term strategic issues. But at times it has seemed the sport is governed by certain teams. Let us not forget that we, the teams, have contributed to the inconsistencies in the policing of the regulations as much as anyone. It is the teams who applied the pressure to avoid finishing races under a Safety Car at all costs. It is the teams who voted for many of the regulations they have complained about. It is the teams who have been using the broadcasting of radio messages to the race director to try to influence penalties and race outcomes, to the point where an over-excited team principal plays to the gallery and pressurises race officials. This has not been edifying for F1. At times it’s felt like a pantomime audition rather than the pinnacle of a global sport.
I am confident that we will see increased leadership from the FIA and F1, and that collectively as custodians of the sport we will focus on evolving the sport and not shirk responsibility when it comes to tough decision-making.
Towards the end of 2021, we welcomed the addition of two new venues to the Formula 1 calendar in countries that will be part of the fabric of the sport for many years to come. The agreements for us to race in Qatar and Saudi Arabia are a credit to the hard work of new Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and his team. Both races held under floodlights were a dramatic spectacle and offered drivers a thrilling challenge behind the wheel. Ever since Bahrain became a regular fixture on the calendar in 2004, the Middle East has become a key strategic partner of Formula 1 and we look forward to further cooperation with the region.
In addition to the new races in the Middle East, there is much anticipation over the second grand prix in the United States in 2022 as we head to Miami in May. When we travelled to Austin last October, it was incredible to see one of the highest attendances ever recorded, with more than 400,000 fans visiting the Circuit of The Americas across the weekend. Part of the popularity of the sport in the USA can be attributed to the ongoing success of Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary series. The programme has attracted many new fans to the sport, including those from differing age groups and diverse backgrounds – many of whom wouldn’t ordinarily be motor racing enthusiasts before they had watched the show. With the prospect of a third race in the US, F1 is gaining strong ground in this crucial geography.
With our rich history in Can-Am and the Indianapolis 500, America has long been an important market for McLaren so the introduction of a second race in the US, around Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, is one we are all looking forward to. We are also continuing to build on our legacy in America with a new chapter in our IndyCar operation with our acquisition at the end of last year of the Arrow McLaren SP team.
Led by Taylor Kiel, our team helped Pato O’Ward to third overall in the drivers’ championship, taking our first win at Texas and following it up with another in Detroit. He was also fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and as a sign of our close integration within the McLaren family, got the chance to drive 400km in the F1 end-of-season Abu Dhabi test. The team is now preparing to take the next step on our journey to consistently challenge for race wins, the series title and Indianapolis 500s, with Pato and Felix Rosenqvist again leading our charge Stateside this year, and the return of Juan Pablo Montoya for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in a third Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
After returning to IndyCar competition in 2020 after a 40-year absence, the acquisition of our IndyCar team is a sign of McLaren’s long-term commitment to the sport. Under the stewardship of Penske Entertainment, I see real potential for the series’ continued growth in the future. The racing in IndyCar is second to none, with world-class competitors in both drivers and teams as well as passionate, highly engaged fans. It will be fantastic to see the Indy 500, after two years of heavily reduced attendances due to the pandemic, return to the level that makes it one of the handful of iconic global sporting events.
As a key stakeholder in the sport, we and our corporate sponsors want to play an active role in contributing to IndyCar’s success and helping grow its global fanbase, while we support next year’s switch to hybrid power to continue advancing the series’ sustainability agenda.
On that topic, our latest motorsport adventure is a significant milestone for McLaren as we enter the all-electric off-road series, Extreme E. The decision to compete in this new series followed a detailed evaluation of strategic, economic and operational criteria and was underpinned by a clear imperative to accelerate our own sustainability mission. It was an honour to launch our new car at the United Nations COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow last November with His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to herald this new, innovative form of motorsport competition for McLaren Racing.
The five-round series highlights the impact of climate change in some of the world’s most remote environments and the adoption of electric vehicles is driving innovation in the automotive industry to develop a lower carbon future. In parallel, Extreme E promotes equality and diversity as each team must field a male and female driver. Last year we were delighted to welcome McLaren’s first-ever female driver, Emma Gilmour to the team, to join Tanner Foust and our first female race engineer, Leena Gade.
Reflecting on 2021 and looking at our priorities for the years ahead, there are four key themes central to this journey for McLaren Racing. The first is our ongoing commitment to sustainability and becoming net carbon zero by 2030 while transitioning to a circular economy with our resources. As the first F1 team to be certified carbon neutral, we have long been recognised as a leader in climate action and we are accelerating our mission towards our environmental and social targets. The launch of McLaren Racing Engage last year has provided a unique platform to advance diversity, equality and inclusion in our teams, our sport and industry by creating opportunity for under-represented talent to advance.
Secondly, we cannot attain our goals both on and off the track without the sustained support and passion of the fantastic group of people and their families who make McLaren the team it is today. One example of this is our Papaya Laurels club, which honours our longest-serving personnel for their many decades of dedication.
Third, I also must recognise our family of commercial partners at McLaren, who bring not only financial investment but invaluable knowledge and share their considerable experience and expertise to make us a better organisation. By partnering with McLaren they are able to leverage their networks to the long-term benefit of both their organisations and McLaren as we collaborate on exciting and inspiring activations, such as the one-off liveries we ran at the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.
Finally, McLaren wouldn’t be the team it is today without our fans. The popularity of our team and drivers was recognised by those who voted McLaren their favourite team – by some margin – in the latest Formula 1 Global Fan Survey. In addition, Lando and Daniel were the most popular driver pairing while Lando was the clear fan-favourite among the under-25 and female demographics.
The significance of this is not lost on anyone at McLaren Racing and, while flattering, ultimately it is an endorsement of what we believe in. Our goal is to open the world of McLaren to excite and inspire fans everywhere, new and old, rewarding their support and celebrating a shared passion for our wonderful team and this fantastic sport.
Fearlessly Forward into 2022.