Zak Brown: Things felt good before they looked good at McLaren

Zak Brown had a feeling at the start of the year McLaren’s fortunes were going to turn around as they did in the races before the summer break, but said the team’s awful start to the F1 season still left him feeling “traumatised”.

McLaren looked to be in real trouble in preseason and the opening races of the year, with technical boss James Key leaving at the end of March.

The team pointed to the upgrade it planned to introduce at the Austrian Grand Prix as the turning point and that prediction came good.

Lando Norris claimed podiums at Silverstone and Budapest, while Oscar Piastri finished second at the sprint race in Belgium.

“There’s a lot of pressure in this sport, especially given how poor we were at the start of the year,” Brown told ESPN. “That’s something I identified kind of at the summer break last year. I always say things feel a certain way before they look a certain way.

“I wasn’t feeling good about what I was seeing the second half of last year. The thing that was challenging was things weren’t feeling good in August and didn’t look good in February. But actually by Feburary, March, things were starting to feel good.”

While Key left at the end of March, ESPN understands the wheels were already in motion for his departure ahead of preseason.

Team boss Andrea Stella, who last year filled the void left by Andreas Seidl’s departure to Sauber’s Alfa Romeo team last year, has completely restructured the technical team since taking over.

Stella’s committee has elevated the likes of Peter Prodromou internally, while Ferrari’s David Sanchez and Red Bull’s Rob Marshall are both set to join in the future.

Brown suggested Key, who has since joined Seidl at Sauber, was holding the team’s technical team back.

“When they were given the guidance and freedom and authority to do what they do best they delivered,” he said. “Because really it’s a lot of the same people who delivered the car at the start of the year who delivered the upgrades.

“The Rob Marshalls, the David Sanchezes, these guys haven’t started yet. The change is credit to Andrea for unblocking and refreshing and energising a lot of talent that we already had — Pete Podromou, Neil Oatley, Piers Thynne, etcetera.”

Brown added: “Given how bad our start to the season was and how vocal people are you don’t want to make any predictions you don’t have a high degree of confidence in.

“All credit to Andrea for putting it out there and not making bold predictions, not making race performance predictions, he was simply saying ‘We think our development is going to be good’. He put it out there than all eyes were on us for Austria and we delivered.”

There is a feeling in the paddock McLaren will remain best of the rest for the foreseeable future but Brown said the painful memories from earlier this year, and how rivals Aston Martin’s strong start faded away in the summer, will keep his and the team’s expectations in check going forward.

“I’m still somewhat traumatised by the start of the year so we’re going to keep our head down and our mouth shut about what we’re doing.

“I might get the quote a little wrong… but Aston’s had a great start to the season, they’ve developed a great car. I think [Lawrence] Stroll came out and said our development shows we’ll be on Red Bull at the next race and they haven’t been as close since. So I’m not going to fall into that trap!”

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