McLaren has announced a revamp of its young driver development programme, which will be led by former F1 driver and five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro.
The team has greatly expanded its racing commitments over the last few years, with the addition of a full-time IndyCar team and Formula E squad alongside its traditional F1 operation.
That means an increased need in top driver talent, which McLaren CEO Zak Brown expects the new programme to deliver.
“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,” Brown said in a team announcement on Thursday.
Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris, Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries have all been among the ranks of McLaren juniors in the past. However McLaren F1's new signing Oscar Piastri came from Alpine, showing a need for more in-house talent.
“We have an experienced team here at McLaren, who will be ably led by Emanuele, that are capable of providing the support and resources required to develop raw young talent into highly competitive professional racing drivers.
“With McLaren’s wide racing portfolio across Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E, we’re well placed to help develop young talent from the very start of their careers all the way through to full time racing or test and development roles.
“We already have an exciting stable of talent, featuring Pato, Alex and Ugo, and I’m excited to continue supporting their development as we start to build the McLaren Driver Development programme.”
2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou (who currently drives for the Chip Ganassi Racing) will feature in the programme alongside current Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar racer Pato O’Ward, and young American hopeful Ugo Ugochukwu.
In addition to their full-time jobs racing in the US open-wheel championship, Palou and O'Ward took part in F1 tests during 2022 in free practice sessions at grand Prix race weekends.
Palou has been named as an official McLaren f1 reserve and is expected to move to the IndyCar team once his existing contract with Ganassi expires.
And Ugochukwu is a former European karting champion who finished third in British F4 last year, and who will be competing in Italian F4 full-time in 2023.
Pirro was delighted to be put in charge of the new programme, which the team sees as "a potential talent pipeline"" for the future.
“I am thrilled by this assignment for several reasons,” said Pirro, who raced in 37 Grands Prix for Benetton and BMS Scuderia Italia between 1989 and 1991, and was also McLaren test driver before finding even greater success at Le Mans.
"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 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, [it will] 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 Formula E teams, which will give extra opportunities for a professional career to our McLaren Driver Development members.
"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."