Formula One is revving up for the Singapore Grand Prix this weekend with a stunning cast of racers, but none of them are from the United States — and McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown has a theory about that.
“The talents are there, the resources are there. It’s really about when and where they get started and to get into Formula One,” 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, the United Kingdom.
“The traditional route is you start in carts in Europe and you work your way up through the 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 Sauber Academy.
In the United Kingdom alone, there are a few programs like the Mercedes Junior Team, Mclaren Driver Development Programme and Williams Driver Academy.
Brown added that testing restrictions are another barrier for American drivers.
“Because of the testing restrictions, it’s now difficult to take a driver out of America who maybe hasn’t been around these tracks,” Brown said. “We only get three days of preseason testing, so you want a driver that knows the tracks, knows the team.”
The CEO said that what F1 really needs are more American drivers in the junior formulas rising through the ranks.
“But for sure, we will have an American World Champion rider one day.”
Lack of female racers
When asked about the absence of female racers in F1, Brown likened the situation to the one American drivers face.
“It’s about having more young girls racing karts … at seven, eight years old and having enough of them that the best rise to the top.”
“But I believe we’ll see a female racing driver, and I hope she’s driving a McLaren.”
McLaren recently announced it will be replacing eight-time Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo with 21-year-old Oscar Piastri.
When asked if McLaren is looking at a long-term strategic shift toward young drivers, given that McLaren’s other driver Lando Norris is just a year older than Piastri, Brown said, “no, you always want a blend of experience.”
“I couldn’t be happier because all our of our big competitors have a young driver and an experienced [older] driver,” Brown said.
“We’re lucky that we got Lando at such a young age that he’s now experienced, but also has youth.”
Norris joined the McLaren F1 racing team in 2019 at the age of 19. Prior to his F1 debut, he was a test and reserve driver for McLaren.
F1 cut its cost cap to $140 million at the start of the year in the face of soaring inflation, and that’s affected how McLaren runs things. The cost cap limits 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 tighter budget has made it more difficult to allocate resources, it has balanced the F1’s playing field because contractors “can’t just spend more” now, Brown said.
“Formula One, historically, has been a sport where you can spend your way out of a problem. Now you can’t because we all have a ceiling on how much we can spend.”