‘They’ve ruined a few that I think had it’: McLaren CEO gives honest verdict on Red Bull’s ‘brutal’ driver policy

Zak Brown has described Red Bull's driver strategy as "brutal."

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has said that Red Bull can be rather cutthroat with their decisions to axe drivers, and believes that many of them weren’t given enough time to succeed.

Since 2016, Daniil Kvyat, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have all been dropped from the Red Bull senior team, which is in part due to the superior pace of Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman has out-qualified a variety of team-mates 90 times in 118 races since his arrival at the team in 2016, setting a benchmark that was only met with any significance by Daniel Ricciardo, who is now at McLaren.

Gasly was dropped after just half of the 2019 season before he was replaced by Albon, and Sergio Perez was then signed at the end of 2020 when the Thai-Brit was dropped.

Brown thinks this is a result of a lack of “opportunity” given to drivers.

“I think they’ve ruined a few that I think had it, but weren’t given enough opportunity,” he said, as quoted by The Race.

“But they won the championship last year, we didn’t, so I can’t say they don’t know what they’re doing.”

He then cited Carlos Sainz who, after nearly three seasons at Toro Rosso, left the junior team having been unable to secure a drive with the main fold.

He left the Red Bull programme as a whole at the end of 2018 when Gasly was selected instead of him to replace the Renault-bound Ricciardo.

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“But they’re a bit brutal. Carlos [Sainz] is a great example. Daniel [Ricciardo] had already proven how good he was but he chose to leave,” added Brown.

“[Sebastian] Vettel left. Max is a great story and someone that they found. [Alex] Albon, [Pierre] Gasly. Gasly looks like a hell of a driver.

“They move through a lot of drivers.”

However, the evident pressure that the Milton Keynes side place on their drivers can make diamond, and the American acknowledges they have a shining one in Verstappen.

“If you look at Red Bull’s history other than Max [Verstappen], they have let a handful of great drivers slip through their hands,” he explained.

Red Bull junior driver Juri Vips has previously offered his thoughts on Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko, who is notoriously unforgiving with his young talent, insisting that the key to remaining in the programme is simple: “Perform, and everything is good.”

Patricio O’Ward was once a member of the Red Bull setup, but was not retained beyond 2019 having contested 12 races in IndyCar, Super Formula and Formula 2 that year. He now drivers for the McLaren IndyCar team.

Brown regrets that he was unable to get the Mexican a seat in F1.

“He definitely slipped through the cracks,” he said of the third-placed driver in last year’s IndyCar championship.

“I think Red Bull, while he was there, they only gave him about three races [in F2 and Super Formula].”

Lando Norris is currently under contract until at least the end of 2025, while Daniel Ricciardo holds a deal that keeps him at the Woking team until the end of next year, so Brown maintains that nothing is available for O’Ward in F1 at the moment.

“Right now we don’t have any seats available. Lando [Norris] is under a very long-term contract,” he affirmed.

“So that seat’s done. Daniel, we have another couple of years with. So there is no imminent seat available.

 “Other than that, I’m not a believer that you have to be 18 to enter Formula 1. Some people believe, okay, [if you’re] 22, you’re getting old. I don’t think that’s case at all.”

However, he would like to get the 22-year-old in the car so long as it does not adversely affect his IndyCar commitments.

“I think [it would be good] to just get Pato some seat time because you never know, a driver gets injured or gets COVID, stranger things have happened. But what we won’t do is compromise the IndyCar team at all,” he stated.

McLaren will be aiming to improve on their fourth-placed Constructors’ Championship finish in 2021 under the new technical regulations introduced this year.