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brown mclaren

Inside Line: Brown’s 5-year plan for McLaren to win set to fail

brown mclaren

Kevin Melro is our wicket-keeper (catcher for Americans) he does not have the time to write as much as we wish he could, but he does have our backs when it comes to stats, history, and all the small details that permeate Formula 1, this weekend reminding our WhatsApp team of Zak Brown’s five-year plan to get McLaren winning again.

Thank you Kevin for the reminder, and memories…

Indeed, time flies, 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 where they belong.

Around Christmas time 2018, Brown offered that ‘present’ to us long-suffering McLaren fans: “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.

That should’ve meant winning races, around about now for their drivers Lando Norris and new rookie teammate Oscar Piastri. Yes, ridiculous as it may sound now, that’s what Zak promised then.

This season – the run into Brown’s fast-approaching, self-imposed five-year plan, and its deadline in December this year – McLaren should be where Aston Martin is right now.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In late 2018, McLaren’s owners firmly believed in the American PR guru turned F1 team CEO. And they opened up their checkbook for Zak to set the foundations for winning.

Step in James Key from Red Bull’s junior team (Toro Rosso, now AlphaTauri) and Andreas Seidl, architect of BMW’s success in DTM, and Porsche’s dominance in WEC sportscars and Le Mans.

Brown said of his two recruits: “It’s always been the plan to bring in dedicated, exclusively-focused leadership on the Formula 1 racing team. We need someone waking up every day and making sure the car goes as fast as possible.”

Brown with Seidl and Key, I’m really pleased with the team we have on the field

“My job is a much broader remit to run the business, grow the business, so nothing really changes for me,” explained Brown at the time. 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.”

Of course, it’s well documented how Brown signed hotshot Daniel Ricciardo for a reported mega-bucks $25-million-per-year contract, only to find Dan not to be hot, cold in fact, and the shot was to fire the Aussie after a sneaky poach of Piastri from flat-footed Alpine team.

But, not long before that, for the 2021 season, when Ricciardo was scooped from Renault after Carlos Sainz departed Woking for Maranello, it’s worth remembering Brown’s words: “We have always wanted Dan Ricciardo, but it was one of those things where the stars aligned and Carlos had the desire to race for Ferrari, which is totally understandable.

“We obviously would have only allowed that if we felt we could get someone of Daniel’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, turned big and expensive flop.

Handbrake!!!

Daniel Ricciardo and James Key have been sacked! Andreas Seidl left for Audi! Brown’s ‘McLaren Dream Team’ is no longer what he intended with his five-year plan. In fact, it seems to have flopped mightily, with no rapid revival or quick fix in sight.

As Brown said himself almost five years ago, his paymasters will be calling for a status of the plan: “Clearly we need to show progress. The shareholders are extremely committed. We’re hiring, so they’re investing in the racing team, and I think anyone who invests wants to see a return and progress.”

And that call is not long off I would imagine. And, if I were on that panel listening to Brown’s telling of his five-year tale to the top step of Grand Prix podiums, these are some key questions I would be asking the man I charged with making my team great again:

  1. Where is McLaren today? After two races of the 2023 F1 season, they’re stone last, I can confidently say that neither Norris nor Piastri will win a Grand Prix unless the sky falls on us! Why so bad, Zak?
  2. Why did we pay so much for Daniel Ricciardo, and then pay him to leave because he was so past it, Zak?
  3. McLaren has spread itself wide, from IndyCar, Extreme E, Formula E and a host of projects which combined don’t garner the kind of column inches winning in F1 does, which in the end is McLaren’s prime resource. Has this expansionism impacted performance at the highest level? Are these sidelines worth it? Or are they an excuse to blanket F1 failings, Zak?
  4. Given that your five-year plan has almost run its course, December 2026 the ‘deadline’ of success is looming, and no wins are on the horizon. What’s up Zak?
  5. If not this year, when will we begin winning again? Now that this plan is all but dead in the water do you require another five-year plan?

Inevitable Question: Is Zak Brown the problem with McLaren?

Ponder the question and it’s hard to say “No” on the evidence of his reign at the helm, which began on 21 November 2016, when Brown was confirmed as executive director of McLaren Technology Group, and then CEO in April 2018, whereupon his five-year plan broke cover.

F1 stats show that under his watch the team has been through its worst-ever spell, although a revival was underway with Seidl; a shrewd hire until his interest was piqued by the Audi-Sauber partnership for 2026, ditching McLaren without much warning it seems, and clearly more confident for his future with a start-up than one of the greatest team ever.

Not to say Andrea Stella and David Sanchez will do a bad job as replacements for the original key players, but they are untried and being set up for the fall guys should matters worsen, unless of course, Zak’s bosses think otherwise, lose faith in his empty promises and chop him instead.

Not much sign of Zak and his quotes of late, is that smoke we see?

You know there is something going on at Woking when the often verbose Brown is media shy of late, not much in terms of soundbites other than this official notice when Key got the boot: “It’s important now that we ensure we have a solid foundation as the next phase of our journey.

“It has been clear to me for some time that our technical development has not moved at a quick enough pace to match our ambition of returning to the front of the grid.

“I’m pleased that, having completed a full review with Andrea, we are now able to implement the restructuring required to set the wheels in motion to turn this around. These strategic changes ensure the long-term success of the team and are necessary to see McLaren get back to winning ways.” [How long, Zak?]

“We have everything coming into place now with our people and infrastructure and alongside an exciting driver line-up, I’m determined to see McLaren get back to where we should be,” Zak is quoted in the McLaren press release last week, echoing exactly what he told everyone 1,552 days ago.

How much longer Zak? Another five-year-plan? Or accountability?

I dream of the Ron Dennis days when being a McLaren fan was ultra-cool. They won everything, and when they didn’t they were still the business, just waiting for a chance to win again.

I became a fan of McLaren when Ron impressed so much with his Project4 Formula 2 team, that Marlboro (who funded just about everything that was good in F1 at the time) turned the running of McLaren over to him after Teddy Meyer had lost the plot running the team that Bruce built.

And that revitalized an aging team, turned it into one of the most fascinating and iconic race teams ever seen, winning seven F1 Constructors Titles under Dennis’ leadership (1984, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1998).

F1 Drivers Titles were won for them by the legends of the sport: 1984 Niki Lauda, 1985, 1986, 1989 Alain Prost, 1988, 1990, 1991 Ayrton Senna, 1998, 1999 Mika Hakkinen, and 2008 Lewis Hamilton.

During that period, under Ron’s watch, the team claimed 361 Grand Prix podiums, 140 of those victories. Under Brown, the team have one fortuitous win at Monza when Ricciardo (thankfully) did his final shoey on an F1 podium.

That day, pace setters and Title rivals, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton took out one another at the first Variante, gifting the top step to the ones picking up the pieces: aka Ricciardo and Norris, as a McLaren fan: a fake one-two, but still nice amid the drought. Forza McLaren!

Who owns McLaren?

Google says: According to United Kingdom government records, the McLaren Group has seven shareholders that own the company. 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, who owns 14.32%.