Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia steers his car during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Spa, Belgium, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (John Thys, Pool via AP)(AP)
Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia steers his car during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Spa, Belgium, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (John Thys, Pool via AP)(AP)

Signing Daniel Ricciardo is a step forward in our long-term plan, says McLaren CEO Zak Brown

In an interview with Hindustan Times, McLaren CEO Zak Brown discusses F1 during the pandemic, performance of the team, regulation and driver changes among other things.
By Sandip Sikdar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON SEP 03, 2020 06:07 PM IST

When Zak Brown joined McLaren as its executive director at the end of 2016, his sole aim was to bring the legendary Formula One outfit back to the top. Embarrassing ninth place finishes—out of 10 teams—in 2015 and 2017 forced a restructuring of the management with Brown assigned the role of CEO in 2018.

Key decisions by the American—changes in strategy, team personnel, driver, engine department—have helped the second oldest active F1 team rise up the ladder. After ending sixth and fourth in the 2018 and 2019 championships, the British outfit are currently third this year, ahead of the likes of Ferrari.

In an interview with Hindustan Times, the 48-year-old discusses F1 during the pandemic, performance of the team, regulation and driver changes among other things. Excerpts:

How difficult was it to return to racing during the pandemic?

It’s great to be back racing after facing such uncertain times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately, it’s a positive for the sport, teams, partners like Gulf Oil and most importantly the fans to be back out on track. Of course, it’s disappointing not to have the fans at track with us, but it’s the right thing to do to keep everyone safe. We know they’ll still be cheering us on from the comfort of their homes.

From finishing ninth in 2017 to third this year, it has been quite a turnaround for McLaren, who are also ahead of Ferrari in the standings.

It’s been a good start to the season but there is still a long way to go on our journey to the front of the grid. The credit goes to our incredibly hard-working team both at the track and factory, and with our drivers. We know how tight the midfield is this year so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. As a team we need to focus on ourselves, knuckle down and keep pushing.

McLaren have lost Carlos Sainz to Ferrari but gained seven-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo for next year.

Signing Daniel is another step forward in our long-term plan at McLaren Racing. He brings a new dimension to the team, alongside Lando (Norris). A Grand Prix winner like Daniel is definitely a sign that we’re going in the right direction. We are also incredibly thankful to Carlos for the fantastic job he has done and is continuing to do for McLaren in helping our performance recovery plan. He is a true professional and a real team player. We wish him well in his future beyond McLaren.

Lando Norris has been in the points in all but one race this year, also earning his maiden podium at the season-opener in Austria.

Lando has been impressive since his debut in Australia 2019. He hit the ground running at the start of this season in Austria and ended up on the podium which is an incredible achievement for someone his age. He’s showing great maturity both on and off-track and the whole team enjoys working with him inside and outside the car.

Former McLaren driver Fernando Alonso is returning to F1 with Renault next year.

It will be good to see Fernando back in the sport as he’s a top-class driver. It’s only good news for Formula 1. From a Renault perspective, it’s a no brainer to go for Fernando.

Renault engines have given you consistent performances in the last couple of years. Then why a switch to Mercedes in 2021?

We’ll have the benefit of having a Mercedes engine in 2021 that we believe will enable to us to maximise our performance in the long term. The Renault engine is strong and has proven reliable. However, the Mercedes PU (power unit) is the ongoing benchmark and therefore what we need to compete with to ultimately be in a position to win.

2021 is expected to be like this year but with massive rule changes planned for 2022, are you seeing it as an opportunity to reach the front of the grid?

2022 presents new opportunities that we can try to maximise with new regulations coming into play and being in our second year of the new budget cap. As a team, McLaren’s goal is to keep building and improving together to get us back to the front of the grid. We can’t jump to any conclusions or make predictions, we need to remain focused and keep working hard to deliver the best possible results on track each race weekend.

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