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Friday, June 21, 2024

What occurs subsequent within the Alex Palou IndyCar contract saga

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You couldn’t make this up, as a result of should you did you’d merely get laughed at. Simply over 12 months after his contractual future between Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren blew up, a second explosion has been detonated by the doubtless two-time IndyCar champion.

After remaining observe at Indianapolis on Friday night, a letter from McLaren Racing chief govt Zak Brown to his staff was leaked. The contents had been jaw-dropping, because it revealed Palou had “no intention of honouring his contract” and that this had come regardless of him already receiving an advance on his wage for 2024.

It learn: “That is extremely disappointing, contemplating the dedication he has made to us each instantly and publicly and our vital funding in him based mostly on that dedication.”

Brown additionally identified the “time, cash and assets making ready to welcome Alex into our crew as a result of we believed in him and had been wanting ahead to IndyCar wins with him”.

This was underlined by Palou’s (now former) administration firm – with launched its personal assertion: “Monaco Enhance Administration is bitterly disenchanted to find out about Alex Palou’s resolution to interrupt an present settlement with McLaren for 2024 and past. Collectively, we had constructed a relationship that we thought went past any contractual obligation and culminated in profitable the 2021 Indycar crown and tracing a path to F1 alternatives.”

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Apparently, it had been working with Palou proper up till Wednesday of final week – even planning his championship celebration at Laguna Seca! – when he dropped the bombshell.

Then Chip Ganassi struck again with a press release of his personal: “Anybody that is aware of me is aware of that I do not make a behavior of commenting about contract conditions. Subsequently, I’ve been quiet since day one in every of this story however now I really feel I need to reply. I grew up respecting the McLaren crew and their success. The brand new administration doesn’t get my identical respect.

Alex Palou, McLaren, on the pit wall

Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“Alex Palou has been part of our crew and below contract for the reason that 2021 season. It’s the interference of that contract from McLaren that started this course of and paradoxically, they’re now taking part in the sufferer. Merely said, the place of McLaren IndyCar relating to our driver is inaccurate and flawed; he stays below contract with CGR.”

Palou himself remained tight lipped. He gave no tv interviews on Saturday, however was seen accompanied by his earlier agent Roger Yasukawa. When The Indy Star’s Nathan Brown cornered him on the pre-race grid, he gave a “no remark” to all of the questions surrounding his future and whether or not he’d already been paid by McLaren for 2024.

What occurs subsequent?

Autosport understands that Palou signed a McLaren contract in July 2022 that runs by way of 2026. In fact, following the authorized motion that Ganassi took final yr, by way of a mediation course of it retained his providers for 2023.

However this allowed Palou to take up a Method 1 reserve driver function with McLaren, that included an FP1 outing at the US Grand Prix and three runs with its TPC (testing of earlier vehicles) program at Barcelona, the Pink Bull Ring and the Hungaroring – on the latter sharing the operating with race driver Oscar Piastri.

It is also understood that the phrases of his deal on the IndyCar aspect, which was delayed till 2024 by final yr’s mediation settlement, would imply he was contracted to drive for Arrow McLaren for the next three seasons, with an choice on its aspect to drag him by way of to its F1 race crew if a chance arose. That was not past the bounds of motive, given Lando Norris’s spectacular outcomes and, for instance, the ages of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso and their potential for retirement in a couple of years’ time.

The one assured end result of Palou’s notification to McLaren that he received’t be part of them subsequent yr is authorized motion on its half. Whether or not that’s to drive him to affix and honour the contract, or merely search compensation for the U-turn, solely time and a courtroom judgement will inform.

The awkward reality, nevertheless, appears to be that Palou has signed two totally different contracts for 2 totally different groups for a similar collection. Not solely that, he’s accomplished it twice now! The truth that the crew that he’s apparently pledged his future to is identical one which took him to court docket final yr is just staggering in itself.

Alex Palou, McLaren MCL36

Alex Palou, McLaren MCL36

Photograph by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

One paddock insider mused: “A very nice driver has screwed his personal model by doing this and he’d higher get used to driving for Chip for the remainder of his profession!”

Whereas Ganassi claims that McLaren is “taking part in the sufferer” – having sparked this complete situation final yr – Palou has been in a position to skirt any blame… till now. His manner exterior of the automotive helps right here: he’s very well mannered, simple to take care of, and all the time solutions your questions, even when he has to swerve their content material typically.

However now, as his flat “no remark” responses present, the highlight is entrance and middle on him – he has to personal his actions of the U-turn on this one. I’m undecided he can pin this one on being badly suggested, as he’s seen at first hand the commotion this sort of factor causes.

So what’s actually modified?

There’s a few strands you possibly can weave collectively to aim to elucidate why Palou has opted for an additional summer season of contractual ache and sure lawsuits.

Strand one: Chip Ganassi Racing is the very best IndyCar crew on the grid. Fact accepted. If he needs to win a 3rd IndyCar title subsequent yr, there isn’t a higher place to be. And if he’s as decided to win the Indianapolis 500 as I feel he’s, then staying put with a crew he’s gelled with actually since weekend one in 2021, when he received first outing at Barber, is sensible.

However… Arrow McLaren’s Indy 500 efforts have been stout over the previous two years. Granted, it hasn’t received an IndyCar race this season, however solely as a result of plenum chamber of Pato O’Ward’s Chevy engine hiccupping when he was poised to win at St Petersburg. IndyCar has two giants in Ganassi and Team Penske, however McLaren is hellbent on making it a trio and has invested closely in doing so.

Strand two: The elephant within the room right here is Method 1. We all know Palou has ambitions on this path, and his eyes mild up once you talk about his McLaren runs to this point. So why would he flip his again on a chance that provides him a direct route – albeit one with no assured timeline – to an F1 race seat in ready?

Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Patricio O’Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photograph by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Absolutely he was set for extra FP1 runs shortly? Why would he flip his again on that? Has Piastri’s current kind spooked him? Does he assume Hamilton and Alonso will stick round till they’re 50, so Norris will keep put?

A transfer to McLaren would imply switching from Honda energy to Chevrolet. An insignificant element? Maybe not. Ganassi is thought to have provided Palou a much-improved wage going forwards, with some speculating an outrageous quantity that will make him the best-paid driver within the collection by an extended chalk. As a lot as we all know ‘Chip likes winners’ he’s additionally recognized to be a really shrewd buyer and never vulnerable to showering his money round.

Strand three: Bear with me whereas we play a bit of 3D chess, however maybe Honda is behind all this? In 2026, it makes an overt return to F1 with Aston Martin Racing – regardless of its motors dominating proper now – however it has an Alonso-shaped downside.

In fact, he’s gone on report saying he regrets the “GP2 engine” feedback and has raced on the Indy 500 with Honda energy. Honda Racing Company president Koji Watanabe has additionally stated: “If we’re to crew up with Alonso once more, as our driver, now we have no objections by any means in him driving.”

However speak is reasonable. Phrase is that Alonso was vetoed by Honda from returning with Andretti Autosport at Indy in 2020. Plus, Alonso might be in his mid-40s in 2026, so the clock is ticking on his quest for a 3rd F1 title with Aston anyway.

Has Honda, and maybe Lawrence Stroll who is recognized for showering his money when he needs outcomes, recognized Palou as its Alonso succession plan? Is that this the lure that’s enticed him away from McLaren – regardless of of all of the flak he’s going to take for it? With the fallback of sweeping up IndyCar titles and Indy 500 pictures within the meantime?

One factor is for positive, Palou has established himself because the standout driver within the IndyCar area. The way in which he’s dominated this yr, identical to he shocked in 2021, proves he’s bought the potential to carry out on the very highest stage. Nevertheless it seems like he received’t be doing that for McLaren in any case… until there’s one other twist on this saga!

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