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Zak Brown: ‘McLaren may consider their F1 future without changes’

The Guardian logo The Guardian 24/03/2019 Giles Richards
Zak Brown © Getty Images Zak Brown

Zak Brown has warned that McLaren, second only to Ferrari in terms of seasons on the grid, would consider quitting Formula One if the sport’s problems are not addressed this season.

Twelve months ago in Bahrain, F1’s owner, Liberty Media, revealed its vision of how motor sport’s elite competition would look in 2021. On Tuesday Liberty meets the governing FIA and all 10 F1 teams in London to begin the process of putting that blueprint into practice. Time is against them, however, with June seen as the deadline to agree new racing regulations and a fresh commercial agreement, possibly even a cap on teams’ spending, if they are to come into effect in two years’ time.

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“For McLaren it has to tick two boxes: to be financially viable and to be able to fight fairly and competitively,” Brown, the team’s chief executive, says. “If it wasn’t that, we would seriously have to consider our position in F1. That’s not a position we want to be in.

“People throw it out there as a negotiating tactic but this has to be a fiscally responsible, competitive racing team and, if we feel the new rules don’t put us in that situation, we would have to review our participation in F1.”

Last year Liberty set out the broad brush strokes of what they want to achieve. A budget cap, fairer revenue distribution, while recognising the historic position of some teams, power units, new regulations and governance. On Tuesday the detail is expected and Brown is optimistic they will have got it right. His goal is levelling the F1 playing field, skewed by disproportionate spending by Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 17: Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the (4) McLaren F1 Team MCL34 Renault on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on March 17, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) © Getty Images MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 17: Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the (4) McLaren F1 Team MCL34 Renault on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Australia at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit on March 17, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

He broadly supports Liberty’s direction but it is the agreement to a new commercial arrangement that is most urgent and tricky. The current agreement runs out at the end of 2020 and signing up to a new one will require acquiescence to spending reductions and fairer revenue distribution.

The latter has long-been a thorny issue and will not be easily solved. Under the last deal Ferrari received an estimated $68m bonus for taking part, with Red Bull and Mercedes also receiving additional payments of $35m. All three teams and McLaren also received an estimated $30m-plus constructors’ championship bonus payment.

But Brown believes this is not the way to create a fairer competition. “Revenue distribution should be more balanced, should be performance oriented,” he says.

“To a lesser degree than today there should be recognition for your history. We all agree Ferrari is the biggest name and should be remunerated as such but not at the level that it is and you also should not be able to put that money into the racing.”

McLaren are rebuilding. Last season they finished sixth in the constructor classification.

20 July 2018, Germany, Hockenheim: Motorsport: Formula 1 World Championship, German Grand Prix: Chase Carey, CEO of the Formula One Group, arriving to the paddock. Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa (Photo by Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images) © Getty Images 20 July 2018, Germany, Hockenheim: Motorsport: Formula 1 World Championship, German Grand Prix: Chase Carey, CEO of the Formula One Group, arriving to the paddock. Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa (Photo by Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Brown, an American with a background in sponsorship, looks to the NFL model of total parity, noting that the Super Bowl still features a diversity of teams. “Once it is levelled, that should accelerate everyone’s competitiveness,” he says. “F1 has had dominant periods but a great F1 is no one dominates any more. It might mean a team winning two championships on the trot – not five or six.”

Once spending caps are imposed, he argues, the regulations should be relaxed, allowing teams to spend more on innovation. The difficulty, of course, is that not everyone thinks the same way. Red Bull’s Christian Horner has warned that their owner, Dietrich Mateschitz, could pull out if F1’s new direction is not to their liking. Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has repeatedly questioned whether budget caps are enforceable. Renault, however, believe the budget cap, governance and revenue distribution are far more urgent than sporting regulations.

Then there are Haas, the American team that use Ferrari parts. It is this B-team model that independents such as McLaren object to. Building more of the racing cars themselves is set to change and that would affect their business model.

All of which suggests some long, hard talking ahead. But Brown is confident that, while the action resumes on the track in Bahrain next week, a successful agreement will have been forged.

“I am optimistic that everyone will participate,” he says. “There will be fireworks between now and then. It’s negotiation but I am optimistic F1 will do the right things and sign up all 10 teams and we will have a much better, more competitive F1 from 2021 onwards.”

Gallery: Every car and driver competing in F1 in 2019 (Photos)

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