F1: With his 5-year plan failing, what’s Zak Brown’s next move?
–by Mark Cipolloni–
We are now in the fifth year since McLaren’s newly appointed CEO, Brown, laid out a five-year plan to take the sport’s second most successful F1 team back to where they belong – at the front of F1 and winning races and a regular basis.
Back in December 2018 Brown announced his 5-year plan.
“I have presented a five-year plan and within that plan, we think we have a journey to get back to winning races, and then once you’re winning races, you’re competing for the championship.
“We have laid out a journey and investment, a road to recovery that sees us getting back to the front of the grid in that timeline,” added Brown at the time, nearly five years ago.
Now 4.25 years later and McLaren is scrambling at the back of the grid. After two races of the 2023 F1 season, they’re dead last.
“I’m just happy that between Andreas Seidl, James Key, the promotions we’ve made, and the other people we’ve brought in, I now feel from a personnel standpoint we’ve got our team in place. I’m really pleased with the team we have on the field,” said Brown at the time.
The Daniel Ricciardo ‘big name’ driver flop
Brown hired Daniel Ricciardo away from Red Bull. He was supposed to deliver race wins. They paid him a hefty salary.
“We obviously would have only allowed that (spend big dollars) if we felt we could get someone of Daniel Riccardo’s ability and someone that we wanted a couple of years ago. So we said ‘why don’t you go explore and we’ll explore’ and if you get the opportunity and we can get a seven-time Grand Prix winner then that’s going to work out well for all of us,” said Brown of his high-profile catch.
He did luck into one win for the team at Monza, their only win in over 4 years.
Now Daniel Ricciardo and James Key have been sacked! In fact, Brown paid Ricciardo a whole year’s salary to sack him early and his replacement (Piastri) won’t be winning any races anytime soon.
Andreas Seidl left for Audi! Did he see the writing on the wall?
Brown’s ‘McLaren Dream Team’ is no longer what he intended with his five-year plan. In fact, it seems to have flopped with no quick fix in sight.
Spread too thin
McLaren has spread itself thin, from IndyCar, Extreme E, Formula E and a host of projects which combined don’t garner the kind of publicity winning in F1 does, which ultimately is McLaren’s marketing focus. Have these other series negatively impacted McLaren’s F1 performance?
Are these sidelines winning championships and painting the McLaren brand in a positive light?
A new 5-year plan is in order
Now that the current 5-year plan is all but dead in the water, will the board give Brown more rope to hang himself and ask for another five-year plan, or will they show Zak Brown the door early and cut their loses?
As we have written here, Brown was one of the F1 team owners that threw Red Bull under the bus on the Cost Cap breach, and Red Bull has struck back and is annihilating all of them on the racetrack again in 2023.
Their opponents are scrambling. People are getting fired. People are leaving. Designs are being torn up. They’re all scrambling to figure out how Red Bull, with such little wind tunnel time, is eating their lunch.
How does the McLaren ownership group (The Mumtalakat Holding Company — the sovereign wealth fund of Bahrain — owns a majority at 56.4%. TAG Group Limited, led by Sultan Ojjeh, son of the late businessman Mansour Ojjeh, owns 14.32%) feel about Brown’s 5-year plan?
After being thrown under the bus with Brown’s scathing Cost Cap letter where he called Red Bull cheaters without actually naming them, we suspect Christian Horner will crack at least a little smile if Brown were to be shown the door.
Brown could move to Andretti Global
Zak Brown is good friends with Michael Andretti, and should Brown be shown the exit door at McLaren, we suspect Andretti could always use a good marketing director at Andretti Global should his F1 team be accepted into the sport.
There’s little question that Brown is one of the best in the business at putting together commercial motorsports business deals. His track record is exemplary. He has brought McLaren good sponsorship money, and that alone could save his job.
But if it came down to it, hiring Brown would fit Andretti Global’s goal of being an American F1 team with a lot of American personnel. Commercially, Andretti Global would be in good hands.