There are no American F1 drivers. McLaren CEO thinks he knows why
Formula 1 is gearing up for the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend with a stunning cast 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 knowing when and where they start and getting into Formula 1,” Brown told CNBC’s John Patrick Ong.
As is usually the case, this year’s F1 drivers are mostly from European countries, such as Italy, Spain, France and the UK.
“The traditional route is that you start in carts in Europe and progress to junior European formulas, and we don’t have enough American drivers.”
F1 offers a series of Europe-based young driver development programs such as the Ferrari Driver Academy in Italy and the Sauber Academy.
“Due to testing restrictions, it is now difficult to get a driver out of America who may not have driven these tracks,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown.
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In the UK alone, there are a few programs like the Mercedes Junior Team, the Mclaren Driver Development Program and the Williams Driver Academy.
Brown added that testing restrictions are another hurdle for U.S. drivers.
“Because of testing restrictions, it’s now difficult to get a rider out of America who may not have ridden those tracks,” Brown said. “We only have three days of pre-season testing, so you want a rider who knows the tracks, knows the team.
The CEO said what F1 really needs is more American drivers in the junior formulas who move up the ranks.
“But for sure, we will one day have an American world champion driver.”
Lack of female runners
Asked about the absence of female drivers in F1, Brown compared the situation to that faced by American drivers.
“It’s about having more young girls racing karting… at seven, eight years old and having enough of them for the best to get to the top.”
“But I believe we will see a female racing driver, and hopefully she will drive a McLaren.”
McLaren recently announced that it will replace eight-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo with 21-year-old Oscar Piastri.
Asked if McLaren were considering a long-term strategic shift towards younger drivers, given that McLaren’s other driver, Lando Norris, was only a year older than Piastri, Brown replied: ” no, you still want a mix of experience.”
McLaren recently announced it would replace eight-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo with 21-year-old Oscar Piastri (above).
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“I couldn’t be happier because all of our top competitors have a young driver and an experienced driver. [older] driver,” Brown said.
“We are lucky to have Lando at such a young age that he now has experience, but also youth.”
Norris joined the McLaren F1 racing team in 2019 aged 19. Prior to his F1 debut, he was a test and reserve driver for McLaren.
F1 reduced its cost cap to $140m at the start of the year in the face of soaring inflation, and it has affected the way McLaren handles things. The cost cap limits the amount each team is allowed to spend throughout the season. The amount is expected to drop another $5 million next year.
But although the tighter budget has made it more difficult to allocate resources, it has leveled the F1 playing field as contractors “can’t just spend more” now, Brown said.
“Formula 1, historically, has been a sport where you can spend to solve a problem. Now you can’t because we all have a cap on what we can spend.