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Pirro leaves role as McLaren’s driver development director

by Ida Wood

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Emanuele Pirro has left his role as McLaren’s driver development director, less than a year after he was announced as joining the team.

The five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner and former Formula 1 driver was brought in by McLaren last April to lead its revamped driver development programme, and announced his exit in an Instagram post today.

“After a year of hard work and satisfaction, I will be leaving the McLaren Driver Development Programme,” said Pirro.

“Together with the F1 team, I was able to put in place a structure to help develop young, talented, and hard-working drivers into future McLaren champions. To the best of my ability, I carried out this task, scouting and signing young stars which I truly feel can carve their names into the history books.

“I trust the internal resources who will run the MDDP will continue on my path and help the programme now, giving the type of unique support developing drivers need alongside the professionalism and experience of the great teams they are all representing.

“I have done my best in transmitting the lessons learned and the mistakes made over a life in motorsport and now I step aside and let the programme walk on its own legs, grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me.

“I wish all the best to Gabriel [Bortoleto], Ugo [Ugochukwu], Bianca [Bustamante], Pato [O’Ward], Ryo [Hirakawa] and Brando [Badoer], along with the future drivers with whom a collaboration has already begun. With all of you and your competitors, the future of the sport I have grown to love so much is in safe hands. I am now ready for new challenges…”

Intially active between 1998 and 2018 as a formalised programme that was focused on bringing drivers up to F1, 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 Ugochukwu was signed as a McLaren junior in 2021 and now races in Formula Regional.

IndyCar champion Alex Palou and his rival O’Ward, who drives for McLaren’s IndyCar team, joined the programme as Pirro arrived, and then Super Formula race-winner, Super GT champion and 2022 Le Mans 24H winner Ryo Hirakawa was added to the roster in September.

Two weeks later FIA Formula 3 champion Bortoleto joined, and Formula 4 racer Badoer was made an ‘optioned driver’ with the possibility of joining the MDDP after a year of being evaluated by McLaren.

“Emanuele, endless thanks for your valuable advice,” said Ugochukwu upon learning of Pirro’s exit.

“I can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me. Was a true pleasure to work with you and specially learn from you. A true champion and a teacher,” added Bortoleto.

The MDDP’s inclusion of top IndyCar and SF drivers reflects its structure where F1 is the target destination for all of its members, despite McLaren racing in fellow top-level single-seaters Formula E and IndyCar.