McLaren chief Zak Brown on why he won’t offer a swan song to seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton
Bag Brown did not have to wake up earlier than usual on Wednesday for his early check-in at Heathrow T2 en route to Bahrain.
For the 49-year-old Californian has routinely paused his own sleep for the past 30 years to maintain his 6am to 10pm schedule.
“I am a workaholic,” he declared. “I don’t do holidays well.”
Zak Brown has high hopes for a revived McLaren ahead of the 2020 Formula 1 season
McLaren has a very exciting line-up with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo at the wheel
Brown ran through security as fast as the scanners allowed, and he was soon reunited with the phone that sends emails day and night. They are often short and to the point – a time-saving style that he has told staff not to misunderstand as rudeness.
He is cheerful when we board our Gulf Air flight, just like he is. The small Gulf state of Bahrain is home to the Al-Khalifa royal family, who own the largest shareholding in McLaren, and Brown toppled the fortunes of the F1 team that was in alarming decline when he took the lead in 2016.
McLaren isn’t quite where they want to be yet – winning a new title for the 20 that makes them some of the most successful drivers in British Formula 1 history – but third place in last year’s Constructors’ Championship was a milestone .
Sighs of relief everywhere.
The future of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is far from certain after this season
Brown (left) has another Brit in Norris (right) and he likes to look to the long term future
Brown, a one-time driver who founded his own company, Just Marketing International, and turned it into motorsport’s largest company, is optimistic about the upcoming season based on pre-season tests that suggested McLaren, AlphaTauri, Ferrari, Alpine and Aston Martin will fight their own battle for supremacy behind top dogs Mercedes and Red Bull.
He wants to take third place and, more importantly, close the gap on the top two. He further believes they could take advantage of opportunities if the circumstances gave them a shot at a win. That would be their first win since 2012, when Jenson Button was victorious in Brazil.
Button’s teammate that day was Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time world champion who is again without a contract at the end of the year.
Now the McLaren seats are taken by another Briton, Lando Norris, who is entering his third season with the team at the age of 21, and former Red Bull and Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo, a seven-time Grand Prix winner.
But would Brown think of offering McLaren’s greatest protégé ever, Hamilton, who won his unforgettable first title in their colors in 2008, a swan song to the team if he left Mercedes at the end of a season that would win an unprecedented eighth title? can deliver?
Hamilton (center) won his unforgettable first world title in McLaren livery in 2008
“Where we are now, no, because we are very happy with Daniel and Lando and have them under long-term contracts,” said Brown.
‘If I had an opening, would I put Lewis in the car? Of course, but we try to build for the future, hence this combination of youth and experience.
“ You feel like if you bring Lewis back now it would be a one or two year journey and we know we are not ready to compete for championships so we need to set up a driver lineup that will take us to that position and that when we reach it, they are ready. Daniel is now of course ready. I don’t think the timing is right for Lewis. ‘
Hamilton’s outlook after this season is uncertain, not least after Williams’ George Russell stepped in for him when he was drafted with Covid for the Sakhir Grand Prix, again in Bahrain, last December and would have won without a pit stop blunder and a puncture.
Russell and Red Bull’s hot shot Max Verstappen are favorites for Mercedes’ appearance next year.
Brown agrees, saying, ‘Yeah, I think you’ll see Max and George there in 2022. I think that’s the obvious conclusion. Lewis wins Title No. 8 this year and is the most winning driver (most successful) in each category; they have a one-year contract with him. George gets out of his deal and Max has a deal that he gets out of.
Max Verstappen and Williams ‘George Russell are favorites for Mercedes’ appearance next year
‘You have Max’s experience and youth, you have George’s youth. When I’m Mercedes that’s a pretty great line-up for the next five years.
The interesting thing is: what is Red Bull doing? That is more difficult to answer.
‘It is difficult for them. Everyone is locked up. And Lewis has spent his entire career at Mercedes, either through the works team or at McLaren and I think Michael Schumacher was essentially a Ferrari man – although he ended up with Mercedes – Lewis has this chance to be a Mercedes man. so I don’t know why he would move. ‘
As for McLaren, Brown has restructured wisely. Andreas Seidl, a German who combines humanity with a high level of perfectionism, was an inspired appointment as team boss.
“The first two difficult years were twenty years, the last two years of improvement have passed as two minutes,” reflected Brown of his time at Woking.
‘It gets more difficult in the front, but that is a sign of progress. There is work to be done, but it is great and I enjoy every minute of it. ‘
Brown, who turned McLaren’s fortunes around after the 2016 acquisition, is enjoying the future