McLaren F1 boss turns to Williams for Historic Monaco magic

Historic Racing News

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown was on track in his Williams FW07B at last weekend's Historic Monaco Grand Prix. He told Damien Smith about driving the "terrifying" track, and why it remains an essential part of the F1 calendar — even though the cars have outgrown it

Two Williams FW07 in 2024 Historic Monaco Grand Prix

Williams FW07B of Zak Brown follows David Shaw's FW06

Jean-Marc Follete/ACM

On his weekend off McLaren’s racing chief Zak Brown just couldn’t resist travelling to a race track. But let’s face it, not just any old race track. This was Monaco, where the Californian was living out his boyhood fantasies by racing the Williams-Cosworth FW07B in which Alan Jones won three races on his way to the 1980 Formula 1 world title, in the 14th Grand Prix de Monaco Historique last weekend.

The McLaren chief racing a Williams? At least on this point there are no political sensitivities, a step or two away from the brittle contemporary F1 world.

So what’s it like running around the world’s most famous street track in a first-generation ground effect F1 car? “We’re not allowed to run ground effect,” he clarifies – a minimum ride height for the fixed skirts prevents full suction – “but even if we were I’m not sure I’d feel it. I’m just hanging on for dear life.

“It’s terrifying, an unbelievable track. I was talking to Lando [Norris] about it. It’s his favourite track for qualifying, but it’s obviously not a great track for today’s F1 cars because of how big they are. But to drive there’s nowhere like it.”

Zak Brown with Charles Leclerc at the 2024 Historic Monaco GP

F1 off duty: Brown chats to Charles Leclerc. Fernando Alonso also offered him advice on how to drive the circuit


From the pre-war class to the DFV-powered 1980s F1s, the Historique weekend is a wonderful throwback to the days when grand prix cars belonged in Monaco. The long, heavy hybrid beasts of today – well, they’ve outgrown the place, haven’t they? Brown is quick to agree. But that doesn’t mean he thinks F1 should abandon its jewel.

“Realistically they have outgrown it, yes,” he says. “We have a race where they can’t pass and I think you can be three, four or five seconds slower and they still can’t get by. But it’s Monaco so we make an exception. The weekend is amazing, qualifying is amazing, but the race is a strategy race of when to pit. The days of duelling on track for the win, it’s pretty tough in today’s F1 car.”

But Monaco still matters?

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“I think you have to keep it on the calendar,” he says. “Just look how popular it is for this historic race. It feels like the grand prix. It’s got such a rich history, and F1 is not only about the on-track competition, it’s about the entire event. From that standpoint it’s still one of the best.”

Brown was speaking to Motor Sport an hour or so before his qualifying session, in which he only managed the 18th best time out of 26, buzzing the engine which meant an overnight change. The race didn’t go much better. It was the messiest of the day, featuring four starts, three red flags and very little racing. No wonder Brown withdrew mid-craziness.

Beyond his own racing indulgence, McLaren duties also called in the shape of the 1990 Honda V10-powered MP4/5 Bruno Senna drove as part of a tribute to his uncle Ayrton, in this 30th anniversary year of the great Brazilian’s death. Thierry Boutsen, Senna’s close friend, admitted he shed a tear or two in the 1985 Lotus 97T he drove in formation with the McLaren, although there was disappointment for Stefan Johansson. Reunited with the Toleman TG184 in which Senna almost famously won at Monaco in his debut season – and in which Johansson replaced him for Monza when the team benched the Brazilian for signing for Lotus! – the Swede only got as far as the tunnel when the car died on him.

Still, the sight of Eddie Irvine in Senna’s Theodore Racing Ralt F3, in the Marlboro colours in which he won the 1983 Macau GP, and McLaren Extreme E driver Cristina Gutiérrez in Ayrton’s Dennis Rushen Racing Van Diemen FF2000 was an extra treat. The display was completed by McLaren Academy driver Gabriel Bortoleto joining the display in Senna’s 1977 kart (owned by Brown). All at Monaco where Senna remains the record holder for most F1 grand prix wins, with six. Special stuff.

Racing drivers on grid ahead of Senna tribute at 2024 Historic Monaco Grand Prix

The cars in Senna demonstration run ranged from his 1977 go-kart to 1990 F1 title-winning McLaren


Van Diemen and Ralt as raced by Ayrton Senna in his early career on a demo run at 2024 Historic Monaco GP

Cristina Gutiérrez in Formula Ford Van Diemen, followed by Eddie Irvine in Macau GP-winning Ralt RT3


“It’s amazing history,” says Brown. “It’s also important because we have a lot of new fans who won’t necessarily understand who Senna was. All these great new fans from Netflix know who Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are, but they don’t necessarily know who Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Mika Häkkinen are. It’s important to get those cars out to keep the memory alive, especially for those who are no longer here. Also Netflix has made a Senna movie which is great, because all those new fans who don’t know who he is once exposed to him will understand how great he was, and bringing the cars is a part of keeping the memory alive.”

This coming weekend, more Senna tributes are due, as F1 returns to Imola. Sebastian Vettel is scheduled to complete laps in the 1993 MP4/8 he owns, and given the continuing strength of feeling that exists about the great man and how he and Roland Ratzenberger lost their lives at the circuit back in 1994, it’s bound to be emotional.

Perhaps a distraction too for the current drivers? “It needs to be a motivation,” says Brown. “I think that’s what he would want. Obviously it’s very sad so there will be that element. But our intention is to celebrate his life, not his passing.”