McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown wants regulations brought in that would increase the chance of rookie drivers getting a chance in Formula 1, saying he would love to see Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward make the switch from IndyCar.
O’Ward took pole position for Arrow McLaren SP for the opening race at Barber and then Herta impressed on his way to victory at St. Petersburg last weekend, igniting the topic of IndyCar and F1 crossovers. Brown says not enough IndyCar drivers get a chance to impress in F1 machinery, and believes all young prospects would benefit from a change in regulations.
“I think that now we have such limited testing that it’s very difficult to take a risk with bringing on a driver that you think could have the caliber to be a Formula 1 driver but doesn’t have the time or track knowledge,” Brown said. “So if I look back and put my fan hat on, I was excited when Michael Andretti came over, when Jacques Villeneuve came over, when Juan Pablo Montoya came over.
“I think IndyCar is recognized as one of the best championships in the world, and so when you see a talent like Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward who drives for us in IndyCar, I’d love to see those drivers get a shot to compete in Formula 1. But I think we need to give them more seat time.
“One of the things I would like to see — and I don’t have a set number in mind, I don’t know if it’s three times a year, maybe it’s five times a year — mandatory Free Practice 1 where you have to put in a young driver. Maybe every team has to go to the same circuit; maybe every team has to do it four or five times a year and you can pick your circuit; I mean, those are details to be worked through. But if we could get someone like Colton Herta or Pato O’Ward some testing time, some Free Practice 1s, then I think you could better take decisions which would create new opportunities.
“So younger, exciting drivers would help… and it’s not just in the North American marketplace, but IndyCar obviously breeds extremely good racing drivers, and I think that creates excitement, it would help with the U.S. market and the young driver market.”
While Brown acknowledges more teams might provide more opportunities for young drivers, he insists that wouldn’t solve the problem of teams needing to take a risk if those prospects haven’t been able to prove themselves at all.
“I would love to see a day when we have 11 and 12 teams, and I think if you look at the wealth in this sport from an ownership standpoint I don’t think the sport has ever been stronger. We no longer have — to my knowledge — any teams with any sort of financial risk to them, when (before) I think the sport has always had two or three teams on the brink at any one time.
“I think because of the budget cap coming in and the fact that the sport is so much healthier now, I’m hoping that we’ll see some more teams come in. If we could get back up to 12 teams you’ve got four more seats; but I also think that sometimes teams don’t change drivers because they don’t know where to go without taking a bigger risk.
“So I think what you might see is a higher turnover in drivers if teams went ‘Actually, I’ve got more opportunity.’ If you look at Red Bull and AlphaTauri as an example, they’ve bounced drivers back and forth a handful a times, and if there was someone else waiting in the wings that they felt they had seen enough of, maybe it wouldn’t have been moving drivers back and forth, it would have been, ‘We gave you an opportunity, it didn’t work, we’re moving you out because we’re bringing in another driver.’
“So I think the seats are there, and I think the talent’s there but the talent has not been able to show its talent for a team to be able to take enough risk.”