As we draw the curtains on 2018 and work at McLaren HQ feverishly continues behind-the-scenes for next season, we sat-down with Zak to get his thoughts on the year just gone, and a first look at what’s around the corner for the start of 2019.
How would you summarise 2018?
2018 was a difficult year, but one where we’ve implemented a lot of change. We’ve learned a lot, we understand the mistakes we’ve made, and we’ve worked hard to make sure we don’t replicate those moving forward. We did finish sixth in the championship, so on paper it was a step forward from 2017, but it certainly wasn’t a season of the calibre that anyone at McLaren or our fans would have expected.
However, what that has meant, is we’ve made much-needed change. I’ve said before that our problems this year weren’t created overnight, and won’t be solved overnight, but we’ve made a lot of progress in the past six months to set us on the right course. We’ve brought in Gil de Ferran, who brings an unusual mix of a racer’s instinct with strategic acumen, promoted Andrea Stella to lead our performance development and analysis group, brought back Pat Fry as engineering director to lead the design of the MCL34, and of course appointed James Key as our technical director to give us the singular technical leadership that has been missing. Beyond these high-profile appointments, we have sought to put the right talent in the right places within the organisation, to make us more nimble and streamline our technical culture. These changes are part of a constantly-evolving performance recovery plan. Formula 1 is a dynamic, not static, environment, so I expect further developments over the coming months.
2018 is now behind us. We are very appreciative of all the hard work Stoffel has put in during his time here at McLaren, and we wish him the best in his new journey in Formula E. Of course, we’re also sad to see Fernando no longer competing in F1, but we’re very happy he’ll be staying in the family with us as we try and win the triple crown together, and no doubt have some other adventures along the way.
Closing out our 2018 driver line-up in Abu Dhabi also meant showcasing our 2019 driver line-up. We couldn’t be more excited to have two extremely talented drivers in Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, and of course Sergio Sette Camara coming on as Test and Development Driver. I have no doubt we have an outstanding driver line-up for the future.
How are winter preparations going?
Winter preparations are going well. Everyone is working extremely hard. We have a good understanding of what we need to do to improve our race car. The changes we’ve made over the last five or six months, both in our structure and leadership, are already in play and beginning to take effect.
We need to get back to the basics, come out with a stronger car next year, and continue on the rebuilding journey to get us back to winning races. 2019 should be another step forward in that direction.
What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
In 2019 there is a lot to be excited about. James Key will be joining us, Gil de Ferran will be moving to an expanded role as Sporting Director of McLaren Racing, which means that, as we look to turbo-charge our Formula 1 efforts and start the expansion into other forms of motorsport such as the Indy 500, Gil is a very valuable right-hand man to make sure that we have sporting success in any racing discipline we enter. Pat Fry, who we’ve won many races and championships with, re-joined us during 2018, to lead and co-ordinate the design and delivery of the MCL34.
It’s still a work in progress to complete the leadership structure for our Formula 1 business. However, I’m excited that James will be starting in time not to influence the 2019 car on its debut, but certainly to help its progression over the course of the season, and most importantly have him be the ‘father’ of the MCL35.
The Indy 500 will be an important event for us, for which we’ve brought in Bob Fernley, who’s a very experienced and well-known racing leader, most recently in Formula 1, but also in IndyCar. He’s ultimately tasked, working very closely with Gil and myself, to put together a competitive programme for McLaren Racing and Fernando. We’re also delighted to be partnering with Chevrolet, and reuniting our two brands. There’ll be more news on our Indy programme as we ramp up to the month of May.
We’re also excited about our driver pairing for next year. I think Carlos and Lando will be great not only for McLaren, but for the sport. I can already feel the anticipation to see McLaren on the grid with two new drivers.
Finally, we’re making good progress on the sponsorship and partnership front. It’s safe to say, you’re going to see some great new brands on our car on the grid in Australia, so I’m very satisfied with the efforts the marketing and commercial departments are putting in to find us great partners to come on this journey back to winning races.
Any final thoughts before we sign off for 2018?
I’m very appreciative of all the men and women that continue to give it all they’ve got, here at McLaren. It’s not been an easy journey the last couple of years. We are all guardians of a special legacy and we share the same racing spirit and passion. It’s what helps us weather the storms and work together towards success.
All our fans and partners have shown an immense amount of loyalty and support, that keeps everyone at McLaren extremely motivated. Keep up the great support – it really means a lot to us.
Finally, I’d like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy holidays, and we look forward to seeing you in the new season.