Five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Emanuele Pirro has been brought in by McLaren to lead its revamped driver development programme.
Intially active between 1998 and 2018 as a formalised programme that was focused on bringing drivers up to Formula 1, the MDDP was then disbanded although the team continued to support young drivers.
Sergio Sette Camara was McLaren’s test and development driver through 2019 while in Formula 2, and karter Ugo Ugochukwu was signed as a McLaren junior in 2021 and now races in Formula 4.
Joining Ugochukwu in the relaunched MDDP will be 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou and McLaren’s IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward.
In recent years McLaren has expanded to race in three series at the top level of single-seaters: F1, Formula E and IndyCar.
Its announcement of the MDDP’s new formalised structure did not position F1 above other top-tier series, but making 2021 IndyCar champion Palou a junior driver suggests that F1 is considered the focus of the MDDP in terms of a driver’s career path. McLaren’s F1 rookie Oscar Piastri, for example, has not been made a junior to open a pathway to a future IndyCar seat.
The announcement reads as below:
McLaren will support young drivers in their development from karting to professional racing driver with the aim of facilitating the progression of emerging talent into F1. Alongside this support for emerging grassroots talent, the programme will also support established professional drivers in other series, providing them with opportunities to gain experience in F1.
The programme also creates a potential talent pipeline for the McLaren F1 team, McLaren IndyCar team and the McLaren FE team, in either a race seat, or test and development driver capacity.”
Comments from McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown indicated the current roster of drivers is a starting point for the revamped programme.
Reigning GB3 champion Luke Browning has been rumoured with McLaren having been called up by them for next week’s FE rookie test. An F1 team is believed to be helping fund Browning’s season in Formula 3.
“I am thrilled by this assignment for several reasons,” said the MDDP’s new director Pirro.
“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 are the IndyCar and FE teams, which will give extra opportunities for a professional career to our MDDP 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.”
Pirro, who in recent years has been an F1 steward, was European F3 runner-up in 1982, twice came third in International Formula 3000, then raced in Japanese F3000 before reaching F1. He also had a prolific touring car career and is a two-time American Le Mans Series champion.