Written by Hugh Waring
Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran has made a triumphant return to the McLaren Formula 1 team, this time as a consultant, as the team continues its restructuring efforts. The former sporting director and accomplished racer have been brought back to support the team's leadership during the next phase of the reorganization.
Following the departure of team principal Andreas Seidl, who now serves as the CEO of Sauber, McLaren initiated a thorough review of its operations under the guidance of replacement Andrea Stella and team boss Zak Brown. This review led to a major overhaul of the technical department, with director James Key being replaced by a new three-pronged leadership structure, including the addition of David Sanchez, former head of vehicle concept at Ferrari.
De Ferran, a two-time Champ Car champion who previously worked with Stella at McLaren from 2018 to 2020, has now returned to the team as an advisor and consultant. In his role, he will provide non-operational and non-executive guidance to Stella and Piers Thynne, the recently appointed McLaren Racing COO.
Stella explained that de Ferran's expertise will be valuable in navigating the expanded regulatory framework, particularly the introduction of the cost cap. He praised de Ferran's leadership skills, ability to identify talent, strategic thinking, and technical knowledge. Stella also highlighted de Ferran's contribution to the team's successful turnaround in 2018, when McLaren climbed from ninth to third in the constructors' championship.
“We thought that Gil, with us during this process, during this journey, would add horsepower from a leadership point of view,” quoted Stella. “Gil is not only very knowledgeable about racing but is definitely strong in identifying talent and supporting talent.
“He's a great coach, is a quite brilliant strategic thinker and you can talk to Gil more as an engineer than as a driver actually.
“To be honest, I'm not sure how he developed so much technical knowledge. He is a brilliant person that we want to have alongside.
“We have already proven in the past that this can be a very successful team having Gil on board, like in 2018, for instance, when we were able to turn a difficult situation at McLaren around [ninth to third in the constructors’ championship between 2017 to 2020].
“It was actually the lowest point in the history of McLaren and in the space of a few months, we set the direction for then being more successful in the years to come.”
Stella stated on recent reshuffling: “The process of innovation and evolution that we have started at McLaren had some priorities that we identified relatively quickly. They had to do with the technical area.
“But when you start to look into a Formula 1 team, that's a very complex entity.
“One element that we also wanted to address is that we want to have enough capacity at the leadership level to look into all the opportunities that you have.”
The addition of de Ferran is part of a broader restructuring effort at McLaren, which includes the overhaul of its young driver development program. Emanuele Pirro, a five-time winner of the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours, has been appointed as the leader of the program. However, Pirro had to step down from his role as an F1 driver steward for the FIA due to his new responsibilities with McLaren.
Emanuele Pirro, a former Formula 1 driver and five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner, has been appointed to lead McLaren's revamped young driver programme. The British racing team has a rich history of nurturing talent, having launched the careers of notable drivers such as Lewis Hamilton, Kevin Magnussen, Stoffel Vandoorne and Lando Norris.
McLaren's updated programme, according to a team statement, aims to support young drivers in their journey from karting to becoming professional racing drivers, with the ultimate goal of facilitating their progression into Formula 1. In addition to backing emerging grassroots talent, the programme will also extend its support to established professional drivers in other racing series, providing them with opportunities to gain experience in Formula 1.
The initiative by McLaren is expected to serve as a talent pool for its IndyCar and Formula E teams as well. Emanuele Pirro, who previously served as McLaren's official test driver between 1988 and 1992 while racing for Benetton and Scuderia Italia in Formula 1, will oversee the programme. Pirro brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the role, having worked as an FIA Formula 1 steward in recent years.
Currently, McLaren's young driver lineup consists of IndyCar stars Alex Palou and Pato O'Ward, with Palou also serving as McLaren's 2023 F1 reserve driver while racing for the Ganassi IndyCar squad, and Formula 4 racer Ugo Ugochukwu.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown expressed his satisfaction with the team's commitment to developing young talent, stating, "McLaren has a long history of developing emerging talent into top-level racing drivers, and I'm proud that will continue long into the future." He praised McLaren's experienced team, led by Pirro, and their ability to provide the necessary support and resources for the development of raw young talent into highly competitive professional racing drivers.
With McLaren's involvement in various racing disciplines, including Formula 1, IndyCar, and Formula E, the team is well-positioned to support the development of young drivers from the early stages of their careers until they secure full-time racing or test and development roles.
The Italian said to the media:
“I am thrilled by this assignment for several reasons,” said Pirro.
“McLaren played a crucial role in my career by giving me the opportunity to earn an F1 drive and to elevate myself to a higher level by working alongside Senna, Prost and Berger.
“Together with my team, my role will assist in creating a state-of-the-art programme, selecting the best possible drivers and providing them with all the tools they need to make the best use of their talent.
“Furthermore, embed them in the McLaren mission, vision and values and hopefully, have one of them progress to the F1 team.
“An important asset for us is the IndyCar and Formula E teams, which will give extra opportunities for a professional career to our McLaren driver development members.
“I love working with young drivers and helping them grow and improve. Every time I did it in the past has been an enriching experience and I look forward to doing it again.
“McLaren has an amazing history in F1. It means a lot to me, and I am hugely proud to be part of this programme.
“I am grateful to Zak Brown and Andrea Stella for giving me this great opportunity."
Team Principal Andrea Stella emphasised that McLaren's restructuring aims to address the complexity of a Formula 1 team and ensure there is sufficient leadership capacity to explore all opportunities. With the wealth of experience and expertise provided by de Ferran and Pirro, McLaren hopes to build on its previous successes and continue its upward trajectory in the highly competitive world of Formula 1.