Formula 1 is gearing up for the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend with an amazing line-up of racers, but none of them are from the US – and McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a theory about it.
“The talent is there, the resources are there. It’s really about when and where to start and get into Formula 1,” Brown told CNBC’s John Patrick Ong.
As is usually the case, this year’s Formula 1 drivers are mostly from European countries, such as Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom.
“The traditional way is to start in wagons in Europe and work your way through European Junior formulas, and we don’t have enough American drivers.”
F1 has a series of young driver development programs based in Europe, such as the Ferrari Driver Academy in Italy and the Sauber Academy.
“Because of testing restrictions, it is now difficult to get a driver out of America who may not have been around these tracks,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said.
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In the UK alone, there are a few programs such as the Mercedes Junior Team, the McLaren Driver Development Program and the Williams Driver Academy.
Brown added that testing restrictions are another barrier for American drivers.
“Because of testing restrictions, it’s now difficult to get a driver out of America who might not have been around these tracks,” Brown said. “We only get three days of pre-season testing, so you want a driver who knows the tracks, who knows the team.”
The CEO said what F1 really needs is more American drivers in entry-level formulas who rise through the ranks.
“But for sure, we’ll have an American rider world champion one day.”
Lack of female contestants
When asked about the absence of female F1 racers, Brown likened the situation to what American drivers face.
“It’s about having more young girls in karts… at seven, eight, and having enough of them to get to the top better.”
“But I think we’ll see a female racing driver, and hopefully she’ll drive a McLaren.”
McLaren recently announced that it will replace eight-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo, 21-year-old Oscar Piastre.
When asked if McLaren was looking at a long-term strategic shift towards younger drivers, given that other McLaren driver Lando Norris is only a year older than the Piastre, Brown said: “No, you always want a mix of experience.”
McLaren recently announced that it will replace eight-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo, 21-year-old Oscar Piastre (above).
Brian Lennon – Formula 1 | Formula 1 | Getty Images
“I couldn’t be happier because all the top competitors have a young driver and an experienced driver [older] Brown said.
“We’re fortunate to have Lando at such a young age that he’s experienced now, but she also has youth.”
Norris joined the McLaren Formula 1 racing team in 2019 at the age of 19. Prior to his Formula 1 debut, he was a test and reserve driver for McLaren.
F1 lowered its cost cap to $140 million at the start of the year in the face of high inflation, and that has affected how McLaren manages things. The cost cap determines how much each team is allowed to spend throughout the season. The amount is set to drop by another $5 million next year.
But although the tight budget has made it more difficult to allocate resources, it has balanced the F1 playing field because contractors “just can’t spend more” now, Brown said.
“Formula One has, historically, been a sport where you can spend your way out of trouble. Now you can’t because we all have a cap on what we can spend.”