MPH: Zak Brown's manifesto for F1's future

Mark Hughes

Liberty has brought new impetus to F1's continued drive for expansion, but in an open letter yesterday, Zak Brown set out his vision for how it can go even further

Zak Brown McLaren

Zak Brown has set out the various ways in which F1 can carry on expanding and developing for the better

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McLaren CEO Zak Brown yesterday gave an address on the team’s website outlining his personal vision for F1’s future direction. It has been inspired by the rapid and fundamental changes F1 has made in the last year in response to a pandemic which had the potential to bring the sport to its knees – “a year since [it] faced the greatest existential threat in its 70-year history,” as Brown puts it.

Although the impetus for much of this change was the pandemic, the crisis only forced F1 to address some underlying issues that have been plaguing it for a long time. In the case of costs and redistribution of income the pandemic only accelerated changes that were already underway but did so at breakneck speed.

“Brown believes that for its own future sustainability, F1 needs to continue on that path of change”

Brown strongly believes that for its own future sustainability, F1 needs to continue on that path of change. He does not run the sport but as CEO of one of its highest-profile teams, he certainly has an influence. His thoughts in some cases align with the direction the FIA and Liberty are taking it, but he’s pushing for more.

F1, he insists, “must not only maintain its relevance but play a leadership role in a global context. We must continue to reduce costs, drive expansion in key markets, grow our fanbase, champion sustainability, increase diversity and inclusion, all while ensuring the governance of our sport is both transparent and fairer for all.”

Here are some of the key suggestions:


Rotating calendar

Formula One has set an arbitrary long-term target of getting to a 25-race calendar to maximise income generation. It’s too many, argues Brown. It risks over-exposure and would be hell for the travelling staff. Yet F1 should still be expanding its reach. There is almost certainly a lot more potential to be untapped in the Americas and Asia, in particular. There’s an obvious conflicting pull there.

From the archive

“A better way to race across 25 markets would be to have an F1 season of, say, 20 races, of which 15 or so would be fixed annual events and the remaining five shared between different venues, on a rotational basis each year. It’s important we have variety in our race venues and allow new countries the opportunity to host a grand prix, while maintaining a level of scarcity value in our sport.”

The rotating venues idea has a lot of appeal. Certainly, one of the upsides of last year’s upheaval was the very different calendar and range of venues the championship visited. But these were invariably traditional European venues – Mugello, Imola, Nürburging and Portimão among them, places that would never have been able to justify F1’s pre-pandemic hosting fees.


New drivers

“I welcome F1’s new 2022 rule to mandate that each team must run drivers with no more than two F1 races in their careers in two practice sessions each season,” says Brown. “But this needs to expand. We can then also encourage drivers from the region we are racing in to participate and grow awareness for the sport in that territory. Young, up-and-coming racers bring dynamism to the sport which the fans love. They shake-up the established order, breathe fresh energy onto the grid and can revitalise a team.”

They can also electrify interest in the sport in their home regions. F1 has for years badly needed a stone-cold brilliant American F1 driver, for example. It needs a new Dan Gurney, Peter Revson or Mario Andretti. The same would follow for any of the other regions F1 hopes to conquer.


Bigger issues

Like any global sport, Formula One has the reach to influence changes in societal attitudes. Whether that’s the sport’s place or not is where fans differ, and there are multiple booby traps within this argument. But it’s not so much about the sport ‘deciding’ which attitudes are the ‘correct’ ones, but to choose and promote its own values. Lewis Hamilton has been arguably the major mover on racial diversity and equality in the past year and it has created resentment among some of the fanbase. But there is a real risk in F1 not doing so, of the series making itself a dinosaur in a world where huge changes are underway, of being on the wrong side of history.

Here’s Brown’s take on it: “We need to remember that we are all fans of the sport. Because of that, the workforce of tomorrow’s Formula 1 are the fans of today and we must recognise the importance of diversity, equality and inclusion across our industry. We need to be proactive to increase the pool of both female and ethnic minority talent across all areas of motorsport. I know we still have much work to do. For example, women currently comprise 12% of McLaren’s workforce, but by 2030 our objective is to have a workforce more representative of the population.

“F1 has the power in raising awareness, influencing opinions and changing behaviour. At McLaren, we have recognised this opportunity by helping confront the growing mental health crisis through partnering with the charity Mind. As an elite sports team, we are major advocates of better mental health and have found we resonate with a hard-to-reach audience, particularly young people, who are increasingly impacted…. We have used the platform and reach of Formula 1 with our fantastic drivers and team-mates to talk about the subject openly, raise funds and, somewhere hopefully, make lives better. With every team pursuing its own cause, under Formula 1’s #WeRaceAsOne platform, the power of the sport to drive positive change is huge.”

Brown has volunteered these thoughts and there’s sure to be some dismissal of them, especially from among his rivals. But that doesn’t invalidate those views and we should be careful about criticising the messenger rather than considering the message itself. The sport has become more proactive in the wake of the pandemic but maybe needs to be more so, as change will impose itself regardless, good or bad.

Bruce McLaren, founder of the team Brown now represents, was a man of great vision, moving with and often leading the evolution of the sport itself. He’d surely be absolutely in his element at this moment.