McLaren Racing Buys into an Indycar Team. What does it mean for Formula 1?

Zac Brown and Taylor Kiel
Zak Brown and Taylor Kiel making the announcement in Nashville. Photo by Chris Owens, courtesy of Indycar

By the end of the year, McLaren Racing will own 75 percent of Arrow McLaren SP, the team run by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. This announcement comes in the middle of the second season of McLaren Racing’s and SPM’s partnership and further commits McLaren to full-time Indycar racing. Taylor Kiel will stay as President of the team.

“McLaren Racing believes INDYCAR will continue to build our brand in North America, serve our expanding U.S. fan and partner base across our racing portfolio and drive long-term value,” said Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing. “The racing is second to none, with world-class competitors in both drivers and teams and a passionate, highly engaged fanbase.”

McLaren raced full-time in Indycar since the beginning of the 2020 season after a decades long absence from the sport, but this moves makes Brown the Chair of the team’s five-person Board (three members will be appointed by McLaren Racing, they will join Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson) and cements McLaren’s place in American open-wheel racing.

McLaren Racing made this move for several reasons, I presume. First, and perhaps most obvious, McLaren wants to sell more road cars here in the United States and participating in the country’s premier open-wheel racing series is a logical marketing step. Furthermore, this gives McLaren more options in making big sponsor deals with American companies for Indycar and Formula 1.

But on a more personal level, Brown is an American himself, already owns a sportscar team named United Autosports that regularly competes in the 24 Hours of Daytona and Petit Le Mans IMSA races, and has expressed interest in Indycar for years. There’s also the fact that Formula 1 now has a cost cap and big teams like McLaren need to find ways to use resources as opposed to laying off people or turning the lights off at R&D facilities.

Finally, Indycar racing is in a good place. It’s now a well funded series, owned by Penske Entertainment. And at the race in Nashville, where McLaren made the announcement, fans saw close competition from a 28-car field with a wide variety of racing backgrounds.

For many years there’s been a fissure between Americans and Formula 1 and even with lots of disparate efforts to build bridges it all seemed futile. But now the United States and Formula 1 are more connected than ever. Real bridges are being built. McLaren’s move is yet another successful binding. And maybe, just maybe, it will help both Indycar and Formula 1 prosper.