McLaren CEO Zak Brown on Lando's Big Win and Why He'll Be in Indianapolis Instead of Monaco This Weekend

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

There’s arguably no hotter name in motorsports right now than McLaren. The storied team is enjoying a resurgence in Formula 1, punctuated by Lando Norris’s dramatic first career win at the Miami Grand Prix. And the young Brit backed it up this past weekend in Italy, finishing runner-up to Max Verstappen by less than a second.

“That was an awesome race,” says Zak Brown, McLaren’s hands-on CEO, who caught this past weekend’s action live from his team’s pit wall. “Lando managed his tires very well, but we came up maybe one, two laps short... On to the next one!”

Fortunately, Brown won’t have to wait long for that next shot at victory, with two of the world’s most prestigious races happening this weekend: The Monaco Grand Prix will start on Sunday morning, followed shortly after in the States by the Indianapolis 500, where McLaren’s IndyCar team, Arrow McLaren, will field four cars.

The jam-packed race weekend is sort of like Brown’s version of the Super Bowl—and he’s aiming to make it a clean McLaren sweep.

“We’ve got some tough competition on both sides of the pond, but we’re hoping to win,” he says. “It won’t be easy, but my expectations are to be in with a shout in both.”

As he has for the past few years, Brown will be in Indianapolis to support his IndyCar squad. The team’s star driver, Pato O’Ward, finished runner-up there in 2022. And this year, McLaren will be fielding NASCAR champion Kyle Larson in his first open-wheel race, a move that has generated significant buzz.

“I’m torn,” Brown says of his decision. “But the only thing that would make up for missing a Monaco win would be if we get an Indy win, too.”

GQ caught up with Brown to talk about McLaren’s resurgence, his love of the Indianapolis 500, and the vibes around the wild Miami Grand Prix.

Your F1 team had a real breakthrough moment in Miami, with that surprising Lando Norris victory. What was the celebration like?

Zak Brown: Just awesome. Lando has been ready to win for some time, we just hadn’t yet given him the equipment capable of it. And when we gave him a car capable of beating Max, that’s exactly what he went out and did. Almost did it again this past weekend in Imola, too. The team’s done a fantastic job in upgrading the car, especially if you look at where we were 12 months ago—we were maybe the slowest team in Miami last year. So, to go from the worst team to the best team is an unbelievable turnaround. Lando was a fan favorite, McLaren was a fan favorite, and it’s great for the sport.

We’ve got a lot of racing to go, so I think anything’s possible the second half of this year.

What led to such a sharp turnaround?

It’s great work from the men and women under the leadership of [McLaren team principal] Andrea Stella. He brought a clear vision and motivation. The thing that’s amazing is that, short of a few senior leadership changes, it’s pretty much the same team that gave us the car at the start of 2023—which was not a good race car. But now they’ve given us the car we have today, so it shows the power of teamwork, the power of great leadership, the power of everyone moving in the same direction.

Speaking of F1 leadership, there’s been a lot of upheaval at Red Bull, with off-track controversies and chief engineer Adrian Newey announcing he’s leaving the team. Do you think that disruption has brought them closer to the pack?

I do, but I think we’re going to see more of that as time goes on. Momentum takes a while to build, positive or negative, and I think Adrian Newey leaving is a big loss to the team that we won’t see the impact of in the short term, but in the medium term, a year or two. They’re a great team, but with all that’s gone on there, I think it’s a destabilized environment that could become more fractured if not managed in the right way.

I think what you’re seeing right now is having stable rules, that’s where we’ve caught up, and so has Ferrari. But I think in 2026, when new rules come out [for Formula 1 car regulations], that’s when you’ll miss [an] Adrian Newey.

This Sunday is the biggest day in racing, with the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500. For the past few years, you’ve chosen to attend Indy. What about that race do you find so compelling?

It’s the race I grew up watching. The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend—that’s my earliest memories of car racing. Such an iconic event with all the big legends. My era was the late ’70s to early ’90s, so to be able to hang out with Johnny Rutherford, who won McLaren an Indy 500 in the 1970s, is awesome.

And to be there not only with our three permanent cars, but to have Kyle Larson racing for us, with Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick there with him, is awesome.

Larson is maybe the biggest storyline of the weekend: He’ll be running his first-ever Indy 500 with your team, then flying out to Charlotte to compete in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. And he even qualified fifth at Indy in his first try.

Extremely impressive, right? I think every lap he’s done for us is impressive—he hasn’t put a foot wrong. It’s very easy to make a mistake around Indy, so he’s been able to find the limit without going over it.

He’s an awesome racing driver. Reminds me of the Fernando Alonsos, the Mario Andrettis, these drivers that can drop into any discipline and be awesome. To me, the greatest drivers can hop into anything and go fast, and that’s exactly what Kyle has done.

If he has a good showing, would you consider giving him an F1 test to see how he fares?

I wouldn’t rule anything out with a driver of Kyle’s talent. I think he’d love to drive anything. We had another Hendrick driver, Jimmie Johnson, who did a car swap with Fernando Alonso about five or six years ago. So never say never. But his first priority, of course, is NASCAR, and we wouldn’t want to disrupt that.

Speaking of swapping cars, Lando Norris has competed in some Indy 500 sim races. Does he want a crack at the real thing?

I’ve talked to Lando about it—not about doing it anytime soon—but would he? He’s very early in his F1 career and focused on that. We did the 24 Hours of Daytona together in 2018, with Fernando Alonso and Lando teamed up, and he was amazing. In fact, that was one of the races that gave us the ultimate confidence to put Lando in our F1 team.

So, I’d put him in that category of guys who’d love to race anything, any time. But with a 24-race calendar in F1, it’s hard to do all that and then add a 25th or 26th race to his schedule!

In the IndyCar world, there’s been some drama lately, with Team Penske drivers embroiled in a cheating scandal, misusing the ‘Push to Pass’ overtake button on their cars. How has the vibe been in that series after those revelations?

Not good. I think it was a big blemish—that team is so good, and those drivers so talented, that I don’t think everyone believes the stories: “We forgot,” “I didn’t know,” “I thought the rules changed.” They’re too good to have a mistake like that happen and go unnoticed. We have to move on from it, but it’s very disappointing.

One of your standout IndyCar drivers is Pato O’Ward, who has come tantalizingly close to winning the 500. Do you expect to see a championship from him soon?

One hundred percent. He’s been close, and it came down to the last race a couple of years ago. We need to collectively put forward a more consistent championship run, but the speed and talent are definitely there. It’s more a question of when does he win the championship, not if.

You’re good friends with the Andretti family, who compete against you in IndyCar. They were denied a chance to become the 11th team in Formula 1, but you’ve been supportive. Do you see them eventually making it in, and how?

I think the best avenue—the easiest avenue—would be for them to acquire a team. That being said, there doesn’t appear to be any team that’s motivated to sell. But when you get into sports franchises, there will always be someone prepared to sell if the right offer comes along. It’s proven to be pretty difficult to get in as an 11th team, and it doesn’t appear to me that the opportunity is going to open up or be any different, so going down the path of acquiring a team would be the easiest route.

The Miami Grand Prix was the most watched F1 race ever in the U.S., with celebrities galore. You even had former President Trump in your garage. What was that like?

Yeah, he was a guest—I don’t know who he was a guest of—but he was a guest of someone in the venue. He requested to come visit the McLaren garage and so, being a global sport, we have shown former presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, dignitaries from around the world. That’s the appeal of Formula 1: It attracts politicians, celebrities, athletes, who all want to see what F1 is about. And when we get a request like that, from those types of people, of course we’re very respectful.

We understand sometimes various people come with various politics around them, if you’d like, but we’re not in the politics business—we’re in the racing business. So if we have a prime minister, president, celebrity who requests to see our garage, we’ll show them what McLaren is all about.

In a follow-up statement, and to address some of the critics, you said it wasn’t a political move, but showing “respect for the office.”

One hundred percent—we respect the office, whether it’s the U.S. presidency or other countries. And when someone makes a request like that, which comes through Formula 1, that’s what the racing teams do.

F1 is a very tech-driven sport, and you recently said that if Max Verstappen were not in a Red Bull, he likely wouldn’t win the championship. IndyCar is sort of the opposite, with greater emphasis on driver skill. Do you think if you plop Max into IndyCar, he’d win?

Oh, I think Max is one of the greatest drivers of all time, so of course he wins. But in Formula 1, first you need a car capable of winning. I think Max has demonstrated the difference between him and Sergio Perez—you need the greatest car and the greatest drivers to win there. You need the same in IndyCar, but since it’s much more of a spec series, the cars are naturally closer and therefore you must have great, great drivers.

Originally Appeared on GQ

More Great Formula 1 Stories