Brown: McLaren "became a bit Darth Vader" in decline years

McLaren became “a bit Darth Vader” in its declining years and needed to become warmer as a Formula 1 organisation, believes CEO Zak Brown.

Brown: McLaren "became a bit Darth Vader" in decline years
Listen to this article

McLaren enjoyed its best F1 season since 2012 last year as it finished third in the constructors’ championship and scored two podium finishes with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz.

The team has switched to Mercedes power units for the 2021 season, and has been boosted by fresh investment over the winter from American group MSP Sports Capital.

McLaren’s upward trajectory starkly contrasts the struggles it faced through much of the 2010s as it battled with its loss of Mercedes works status and an ill-fated switch to Honda power units in 2015.

A slump to ninth place in the constructors’ championship in 2015 was set against the backdrop of a boardroom struggle that culminated in long-serving CEO Ron Dennis leaving at the end of 2016.

Brown took over the running of McLaren’s motorsport activities, initially as executive director before becoming CEO of McLaren Racing, and has helped rejuvenate the team’s fortunes.

“What I walked into was a team very much on the decline in almost every aspect,” Brown told Motorsport.com.

“Sponsorship from the days of Vodafone, Johnnie Walker, GSK and ExxonMobil was down to almost a blank car. Race results, the facts are the facts: we were ninth in the championship. That then manifested itself into a very unhappy workforce, so when you walked around the shop, heads were down, not up.

"I don’t think it’s any one individual person’s fault, there’s not a blame game here. But you had a revolving door of leadership, starting at the top. You had a well-documented and publicised shareholder battle.

“That just manifested itself into a very unhealthy environment. What I tried to do is get the right people in the right place, simplify the organisation, focus the organisation, and try and be a warmer organisation.”

Read Also:

Brown said that he was a “massive admirer” of Dennis, and that he considered him to be “a friend and clearly a legend in the sport”, but explained how McLaren needed to be more receptive to what others wanted from the team and the brand.

“I’ve always kind of felt like McLaren is Star Wars, but we became a bit Darth Vader, and I think we needed to be a bit more Luke Skywalker,” Brown said.

“So, cool, Star Wars, but we really tried to turn the attention of the team and the brand into what do people want out of McLaren? [Such as] changing the car to papaya, because that’s what the fans want.

“By getting I think the right people in the right place, focusing the organisation, and bringing some energy and change, we’re now starting to see that all working.”

McLaren has been boosted by the arrival of ex-Porsche LMP1 chief Andreas Seidl as team principal and ex-Toro Rosso technical chief James Key, both of whom started their roles in 2019.

The team is also embarking on an upgrade of its facilities at Woking, including the construction of a new wind tunnel, as well as signing seven-time grand prix winner Daniel Ricciardo to partner Norris in 2021.

“We have everything we need now, whether that’s drivers, team principal, technical director, power unit, sponsor partners, investors, the resources, the CapEx [projects], but it’s going to take more time to gel,” Brown said.

“If you look at the two more recent dominations: Mercedes, it took them a little bit of time to build that momentum to get there, then once they got there, they’re hard to knock off the top of the mountain.

“Before that, it was Red Bull. It took them a little bit of time to get there. So this is a momentum business. I think we have good momentum. But we still have a long way to go.”

shares
comments

Related video

Ricciardo's snug McLaren showcases fine art of the F1 seat fit
Previous article

Ricciardo's snug McLaren showcases fine art of the F1 seat fit

Next article

F1 considers 2021 Saturday sprint races, reverse grids ruled out

F1 considers 2021 Saturday sprint races, reverse grids ruled out
Load comments
The danger for Red Bull in its Barcelona F1 team orders choice Prime

The danger for Red Bull in its Barcelona F1 team orders choice

OPINION: Red Bull walked into a team orders saga on its way to taking a Spanish Grand Prix 1-2 last weekend, where it took the lead of the 2022 Formula 1 world championships for the first time. But its decisions have added an element of risk to later races.

Why Mercedes' Spanish GP gains aren't as grand as they seemed Prime

Why Mercedes' Spanish GP gains aren't as grand as they seemed

Mercedes' strong showing in last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix prompted team boss Toto Wolff to say it had halved its deficit to the leaders and its Formula 1 title chances were back on after a rocky start to the 2022 campaign. But a closer inspection of the team's performance suggests its gains aren't as grand as they first appeared

Formula 1
May 24, 2022
What's next for the Green Red Bull controversy? Prime

What's next for the Green Red Bull controversy?

From the 'pink Mercedes' to the 'Green Red Bull', the Silverstone-based team has received suspicious glares from up and down the Formula 1 paddock over its car design exploits. But after being cleared by the FIA over its Spanish Grand Prix updates amid a backdrop of cries of foul play, what's next in this saga?

Formula 1
May 24, 2022
Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022 Prime

Spanish Grand Prix Driver Ratings 2022

In an unusually hectic Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc was denied a dominant performance by his Ferrari engine letting go which allowed Max Verstappen to pick up the pieces. But numerous flashpoints kept the race twisting and turning throughout, with one perfect score from an emerging contender

Formula 1
May 23, 2022
How Verstappen overcame his and Red Bull’s errors to win in Spain Prime

How Verstappen overcame his and Red Bull’s errors to win in Spain

Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari engine disaster offered an open goal for Max Verstappen and Red Bull to strike, but the reigning Formula 1 world champion still had to solve multiple errors and profit from a begrudged assist from team-mate Sergio Perez, which created an unexpectedly eventful Spanish Grand Prix

Formula 1
May 23, 2022
Why Red Bull can win a Spanish GP that looked perfect for Ferrari Prime

Why Red Bull can win a Spanish GP that looked perfect for Ferrari

Formula 1's return to Spain on Friday ended with Ferrari leading the way from Mercedes, while Red Bull could only manage third fastest overall courtesy of Max Verstappen. But its chances of victory are far from remote with a deeper dig into the times despite Ferrari's strong start...

Formula 1
May 20, 2022
The key aspects of Porsche and Audi's planned F1 entries Prime

The key aspects of Porsche and Audi's planned F1 entries

The VW Group’s German superpowers of sportscar racing have all but confirmed they are coming to F1 when the next set of engine rules come into force in 2026. Here's why both manufacturers are all set to take the plunge, and crucially how it might work

Formula 1
May 19, 2022
How Vegas went from byword for F1 indifference to grand Liberty coup Prime

How Vegas went from byword for F1 indifference to grand Liberty coup

Holding a race in Las Vegas – party central, a city of dreams and decadence and, yes, more than a smattering of tackiness – has been on Liberty Media’s most-wanted list since it acquired Formula 1’s commercial rights. But, as LUKE SMITH explains, F1 has been here before and the relationship didn’t work out

Formula 1
May 18, 2022