McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown is on a mission to return the Formula 1 team to title-winning form, while at the same time seeking success in IndyCar, Extreme E and at Le Mans. In Motor Sport’s latest My big break podcast, he tells Chris Medland about the moments that took him from growing up as a racing fan in California, to joining a select club of F1 team bosses.
Brown recalls meeting Mario Andretti as a youngster and the F1 veteran’s advice that set him off as a racer. While competing in single-seaters and recruiting sponsors, Brown discovered his talent for marketing and he explains how he used that ability to grow a multi-million-pound business that became the world’s largest motor sport marketing company.
An opportunistic phone call to legendary F1 marketeer John Hogan helped fuel Brown’s JMI business and also brought him in contact with McLaren, beginning a relationship that would ultimately see him take control of the racing operation.
Brown explains his decisions to sell JMI for more than $70m (£42m) and to turn down job offers from Bernie Ecclestone and Liberty Media before McLaren came calling in 2016.
McLaren shareholders Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-Khalifa and the late Mansour Ojjeh picked him to replace Ron Dennis and Brown describes their “full throttle sales pitch” and conviction that they would not take no for an answer. “It was kind of, ‘you’re not leaving here until we do a deal’,” says Brown.
Since then, the 50-year-old has turned McLaren’s fortunes around, making his “most radical decision” soon after he began and making ten key appointments to return the team to the top step of the podium in Monza last year. He says that Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 drives began as a joke — “and he bit”, plus his secrets to a successful and happy team.