McLaren's Fantasy Formula One Team

McLaren's Fantasy Formula One Team 960 661 C-Suite Network

One Formula One team has been linked with more changes this year than any other. McLaren has the second-highest tally of F1 drivers’ championships but after a disastrous switch to Honda engines in 2015 it reversed down the standings and currently lies in last place. Its lead driver Fernando Alonso famously sacrificed competing in this year’s Monaco Grand Prix in favor of the Indianapolis 500, its chairman Ron Dennis stepped down last week and there is frequent talk that it will move to Mercedes engines. So what is McLaren’s dream team? We asked its executive director Zak Brown.

McLaren has been racing in F1 since 1966 and is the second most-successful team in its history with only Ferrari having more drivers’ titles. It is famous for winning in F1 with legendary champions like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost but it hasn’t won the title since 2008 when Britain’s Lewis Hamilton steered the team to victory.

The downward trend was driven by F1 changing its engines from 2.4-liter V8s to 1.6-liter turbocharged V6 hybrids. McLaren made the bold decision to switch to Honda engines from ones made by Mercedes, which had powered the team since 1995. It didn’t pay off as Mercedes has dominated the V6 era whereas Honda has struggled as it returned to F1 after a six-year hiatus. It led to McLaren slipping down the standings from fifth in 2014 to ninth the following year.

Zak Brown took the wheel of McLaren in November last year. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

It raced back up the running order to finish sixth last year but its 2017 F1 campaign is still stuck in the slow lane. Ironically, the highlight of its season so far has been Alonso’s performance in the 500 which he led for 27 laps before his Honda engine gave up.

The race renewed Alonso’s drive after months of battling with an under-performing engine in F1. It also gave him a shot at auto racing’s fabled Triple Crown as he is a two-time winner of the Monaco Grand Prix so is only lacking wins in the 500 and the Le Mans 24-hour race.

The move was Brown’s brainchild and was a masterstroke as McLaren’s partners got their logos on Alonso’s McLaren Honda Andretti IndyCar, which attracted 2.1 million views on YouTube and Facebook for a test run alone. This kind of marketing manoeuvre is Brown’s speciality.

Born in Los Angeles he dreamt of driving in F1. It may seem unusual for an American now but when Brown was growing up the race series was at the height of its popularity in the United States with Mario Andretti taking the title in 1978.

Brown travelled to England staying with friends and working his way up the racing ladder which is where he became skilled at selling sponsorship. He eventually realised that he could make more money doing this than chasing the dream of becoming an F1 driver and in 1995 Just Marketing Inc (JMI) was born.

As Forbes has reported (https://www.forbes.com/sites/csylt/2014/04/09/nascar-sponsorship-agency-hits-1-billion-of-deals/), JMI is an agency which went on to sign more than $1 billion of sponsorship deals with brands including investment bank UBS, logistics firm UPS, sandwich restaurant chain Subway and telco giant Verizon. This put the agency on the radar of sports marketing firms culminating in it being sold for $76 million in 2013.

JMI was bought by CSM Sport & Entertainment,…