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McLaren’s 2019 Indy failure is guiding FE/Le Mans caution

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

McLaren’s failure to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 is making it “very cautious and deliberate” in considering a potential Formula E programme or Le Mans 24 Hours return, says Zak Brown.

The British company is expanding beyond its Formula 1 and IndyCar projects with the addition of an Extreme E entry in 2022.

In January this year, McLaren signed an option to enter the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship for the 2022-23 season, and this option remains in place following McLaren’s commitment to XE.

McLaren has also publicly expressed a serious desire to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours and has thus considered a World Endurance Championship programme as well.

But both of those long-held interests would require more resources than Extreme E, which did not appear to be on McLaren’s radar, and McLaren Racing CEO Brown said that the experience of failing to qualify for the 2019 Indy 500 with Fernando Alonso is still fresh in his mind.

Alonso Brown Indy 2019

“One of the reasons why we’ve not made a decision on any other series is let’s do one step at a time, to make sure we can digest what we bite off,” said Brown.

“We wanted, because of the importance of sustainability and diversity to McLaren, to be an early mover [in Extreme E].

“Also, it won’t be long before Alejandro has a full grid. One of those reasons being operational efficiency, it doesn’t take the same workload if you’d like to go compete and five events with seven, eight, nine people on the team as 70, 80 or 100.

“We wanted to get this announcement out, get settled in, and then start to look to make decisions on the other series.

“But certainly we can’t get ourselves in a situation which I got us into in 2019 where I think I did bite off a little bit more than I could chew, and we saw the result in Indianapolis.

“As I tell everyone at the factory, mistakes are OK, just don’t make the same one twice.

“So, I’m certainly going to be very cautious and deliberate when adding to the McLaren Racing portfolio that it’s something I feel we can digest and do properly.”

Brown says the success of McLaren’s full-time Indy team, which joined the US series last year, compared to its ill-fated solo effort as a one-off at Indianapolis is the right template.


He said it has “raised our confidence” that McLaren can compete in multiple categories but only if approached in the right way – which includes the financing and operation of the project, and also what McLaren wants to get from it.

Brown explained that Extreme E ticked the relevant boxes already but McLaren was yet to be convinced to commit to an FE or WEC programme.

“All the different racing series have different attributes, different reasons and rationale as to why they may or may not fit within the McLaren Racing portfolio,” said Brown.

“We’ve not taken a decision yet on those other series.

“I believe the [Extreme E] franchise will be sold out quickly, whereas when you get into something like WEC there is no pressure to be one of X amount of teams.

“We felt with the success of the series that we didn’t have the luxury of maybe waiting another six months.

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“Also, [we considered] the importance of sustainability and diversity to McLaren Racing, and being able to accelerate that programme and demand from our partners, and our desire to understand the technologies and learn from that.

“It was for all those reasons that we took the decision to enter Extreme E now while we continue to evaluate these other racing opportunities.”

FE had initially seemed the likeliest new McLaren project, initially as a racing team rather than a commitment to being a powertrain manufacturer.

If McLaren Racing wanted to enter as a manufacturer and use its own technology for Gen3 it needed to formally register with the FIA by March 31 – which it didn’t.

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McLaren eyed the 2022-23 season because its sister company McLaren Applied is currently the supplier and track support team of the spec Gen2 battery and will relinquish that deal next year when Williams Advanced Engineering takes over the battery supply for the Gen3 car.

As for a sportscar programme, Brown had said late last month – prior to the Indy 500 – that McLaren would “definitely not go sportscar racing in 2023”.

“We’ve not taken any final decisions on that yet,” said Brown of the FE option.

“Our option goes until the end of the year. We wanted to get this announcement out there and see what activity it creates with our fans and in the marketplace.

“WEC and Formula E remain under review and I anticipate having some direction on both of those later in the year.”

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