F1/IndyCar: McLaren boss bullish on 2023

A letter from Zak Brown:

Dear McLaren fans,

When the first McLaren racing car, the M1A, rolled out of our original Feltham workshop in west London, it set into motion an incredible journey that has spanned the past six decades of competition. From humble beginnings, the company, founded by the legendary Bruce McLaren in 1963, has grown to be one of the biggest and most successful outfits in the history of the sport.

Under his inspirational guidance, McLaren quickly established this team as a leading light in motor racing with our iconic, papaya-liveried machines thrilling fans as they powered to victory in various categories around the world. Today, our aim is to continue the legacy that Bruce started and strive for future success on the race track.

In 2023, as we celebrate 60 years of this great organization, we plan to reflect on the amazing achievements along the way: 12 Drivers’ and eight Constructors’ World Championships in Formula 1, 183 Grand Prix wins, three victories at the Indianapolis 500 and winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans at our first attempt – not forgetting our incredible automotive heritage, creating the most pioneering road cars in the world.

Throughout the course of this season, look out for a number of exciting moments to mark our historic anniversary as we pay tribute to the men and women, the drivers, engineers, and mechanics who helped guide our success. In addition, we’ll be demonstrating many of the greatest cars to have been built at McLaren over the past 60 years.

When we unveiled our latest challenger, the MCL60, to the world at the McLaren Technology Center last month, we were honored to have in attendance two of the original members of Bruce’s company. Employee number three, Howden Ganley, and employee number eight, Ray ‘Tex’ Rowe, shared their memories of Bruce and revealed the passion of those early days that continues to exist in the many hundreds of personnel that work for us now.

Six decades on, McLaren has grown beyond recognition and in recent years, strategic investment – aligned with our commitment to sustainability and social responsibility – has taken this company into new racing spheres. Last year, we established NEOM McLaren Electric Racing and entered Extreme E. Emma Gilmour became our first female driver, and it was great to see her achieve a podium. Our 2023 campaign is already well underway in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, while our NTT INDYCAR SERIES season starts on the same weekend we’re competing in the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix.

I’m very excited to welcome our rookie Oscar Piastri to our F1 team. The Australian comes to McLaren with an impressive CV, having won both the Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships. In the short time he has had to integrate with our team personnel in the factory, Oscar has already shown his commitment to us and is very determined to succeed on the race track. Partnered with our ‘veteran’ Lando Norris, I’m in no doubt we have the best young driver line-up in Formula 1.

Our new F1 Team Principal Andrea Stella is extremely experienced and, having been with McLaren since 2015, understands every aspect of our organisation. With long-term key infrastructure projects set to be operational later this year, the future under Andrea’s leadership is extremely bright. They include our new manufacturing facility, simulation tooling and our own wind tunnel.

Despite Lando securing a podium at Imola, we acknowledge that our finishing position in 2022 – fifth – is not where we want to be, but we come into the new season with a realistic perspective. Last year featured a significant change to the regulations, and it will take time for the gap to reduce between the front and the back of the grid. And the closeness of the competition will continue to be assisted by the budget cap. While it was disappointing to see breaches of the cap last year, everyone involved has learned from the process and it’s important to see the sport is moving forward in this regard. I trust there won’t be a repeat of these financial breaches in 2023.

Last weekend we completed our pre-season testing in Bahrain ahead of the first round. While we didn’t get as many laps in as we would have liked due to addressing minor issues on both cars during sessions, it was a decent three days in the new MCL60s that yielded a lot of useful data, which we will be analyzing this week. Rest assured, improving our performance over the course of the season is a key priority and the team are working together to bring further developments to the track as soon as possible. That said, we know there is more that we can get out of the existing package, and we’re looking ahead to the first F1 race of the season in Bahrain with great anticipation.

Formula 1 is experiencing truly exciting growth. Promoters are enjoying capacity crowds at their circuits, our global reach has never been bigger and we’re drawing an entirely new generation of fans to our sport, thanks not only to the quality of the on-track action, but to the success of Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive series. There is a new Hollywood movie featuring Brad Pitt that is set to roll into production later this year, and of course, the return of Formula 1 to Las Vegas after a break of 40 years. I can’t wait for a Saturday night grand prix with cars racing at over 200mph on the famous Vegas Strip. It will be absolutely spectacular.

The popularity of motor racing in the United States is exemplified by the success of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and we are delighted to expand into a three-car operation this year. Pato O’Ward took two victories at Alabama and Iowa and just missed out on a historic Indy 500 win. We enter 2023 more ambitious than ever under the leadership of Gavin Ward. Pato and Felix Rosenqvist will be returning, and will be joined by the talented Alexander Rossi, as we set our sights on more victories in one of the most competitive series in the world. The team will be joined for this year’s Indy 500 by 17-time race winner Tony Kanaan. The 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be Tony’s final race, marking a fitting end to a decorated career.

As the first Formula 1 team to be certified carbon neutral, and the only F1 team to sign up to the ambitious Race to Zero commitments under the UN Sports for Climate Change Framework, we continued our commitment to climate action last year by launching NEOM McLaren Electric Racing. As part of our plan to become net carbon zero by 2040, the decision to enter both Extreme E and the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship will help us drive innovation in the automotive world and to accelerate towards a lower carbon future.

Run by experienced Team Principal Ian James, we started our Formula E journey in Mexico City back in January, where I was personally able to take a close look at the efforts of our new team, led by our drivers Jake Hughes and René Rast. We can be encouraged by our initial efforts, and we hope to collect a decent haul of points at each event throughout the season.

As I mentioned earlier, our Extreme E campaign finished on a high at the end of our first year when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour took a podium place at the Uruguay Natural Energy X Prix. Both will be looking to improve on 2022 when the new season gets underway in Saudi Arabia, a week before the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah. I’m also delighted to say that long-time McLaren friend Gary Paffett is now Sporting Director at the NEOM McLaren Extreme E team this year, in addition to his Formula E Team Manager responsibilities.

2022 also saw a double victory for McLaren in the F1 Esports Championships with our Shadow McLaren team, which consisted of Lucas Blakeley, Bari Boroumand, and Wilson Hughes, winning the Esports Pro Constructors’ Championship, with Lucas victorious in the tight battle for the drivers’ title. The team achieved four first-place finishes, five additional podiums and one pole position along the way.

Throughout all our racing operations outlined above, in addition to our historic activities, I continue to be indebted to the exceptional teammates that share that same passion our initial employees, Howden and Ray, did under Bruce McLaren’s stewardship. The baton has been passed onto the next generation, who are as equally competitive when it comes to finding a tenth of a second on the race track.

But none of this would be possible without the incredible support from you – our loyal McLaren fans, the best in the sport, and of course, we couldn’t go racing without our partners. We are privileged to have some of the world’s leading brands as part of our racing family. In F1’s most recent global fan survey, we topped the poll as the most popular team, and we are looking to strengthen the support we have with our fan base heading into this milestone year.

Fans who sign up to our free-to-join McLaren Plus programme will get the chance to experience exclusive events (a few lucky competition winners attended the launch of the MCL60 last month), a discount on McLaren merchandise, and an opportunity to meet members of the team.

Thank you again for your support. Keep flying those papaya-colored flags in the grandstands and from the spectator banks around the world. It means a lot to our drivers and all our race teams. Just imagine how proud Bruce McLaren would be if he could see what his team has achieved and how well-supported McLaren is around the world today.

Let’s keep pushing!