This author has lamented many instances about how, in motorsport, silly-season gossip concerning the future tends to distract from the right here and now. Within the case of, say, the highest class in WEC over the previous 4 years and the interminable internecine Toyota battle, it will be comprehensible if the main focus was pulled away from on-track motion and turned as a substitute to ever-brightening prospects with new regs and new producers.
However in IndyCar, it appears plain unhappy that we appear discontent with the established order, which usually entails greater than a dozen potential race winners on any given weekend and, on the midway level of the season, six or seven drivers throughout three or 4 groups who’ve a reliable shot on the title.
There was some hope of this not being the case this yr, as a result of a lot of the big-name drivers and big-name groups are attached at the least to the tip of 2023. Alexander Rossi needed to decide relating to his future, he did so, and can transfer to Arrow McLaren SP, the place he’ll be part of Pato O’Ward who resolved his early-season difficulties with the group. Except for that, there have been no main query marks, so we might preserve our consideration on an enthralling battle that after 9 rounds sees seven drivers lined by 70 factors.
Or that was the hope, at the least, so it was with some dolefulness that I seen that each one that occurred is that spotlight turned to subsequent yr’s foolish season, since a number of stars and potential stars will attain the tip of their contracts concurrently on the finish of 2023.
After which the world turned the other way up. A few hours after Chip Ganassi Racing confirmed it had taken up its option on Alex Palou’s services for 2023 the driving force himself hit his social media channels to name bullshit, say that the quote was pretend and to announce he will be leaving Ganassi at season’s end.
Moments after that little ‘WTF?!’ got here McLaren’s launch that Palou had joined the group “household”, and that he will probably be sharing an F1 take a look at programme with fellow IndyCar drivers Pato O’Ward – already an Arrow McLaren SP driver – and Colton Herta, who simply ran a two-day analysis take a look at at Portimao in final yr’s McLaren.
Palou and Herta – are they now rivals for a McLaren Method 1 trip in 2024?
Photograph by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
Whereas the information arrived in actually startling method, the transfer itself was not completely out of the blue, for Palou had been linked with a transfer to Arrow McLaren SP for some months now. Many people questioned why any driver would select to go away the best IndyCar group of the final quarter-century to affix a squad which continues to be attempting to ascertain itself as completely high rank. There have been three potential solutions: McLaren was providing Palou a vastly elevated wage, a possibility in Method 1, or each.
Taking into consideration McLaren had not too long ago agreed to guage Herta in an F1 automobile – a transfer that briefly knocked O’Ward’s nostril out of joint – the chance of Palou discovering himself in an F1 seat any time quickly appeared distant. McLaren already has in its books a wonderful younger driver who’s hungry for F1, O’Ward, and can certainly be capable of name on a equally proficient driver, Herta, offering Michael Andretti’s dream of taking his Andretti Autosport group into Method 1 fails to return to fruition.
But equally, it didn’t appear possible that McLaren would supply a jaw-dropping wage to Palou simply to woo him away from his present group and insert him in at Arrow McLaren SP. And anyway, it’s laborious to think about any driver of actual stamp who would commerce short-term championship potential for long-term dollars. Due to this fact, the conclusion is that there’s a tasty Method 1 promise for Palou in his new deal.
In Could and early June, Autosport had contact with some fascinating and credible sources – a pair by probability, one very deliberately – and all three concurred that whereas Palou’s Method 1 ambitions have been far much less overt than these of O’Ward and Herta, he too has his eyes filled with grand prix racing. All three sources wanted reassurance that I wouldn’t determine them, and all three additionally admitted they weren’t in possession of all of the info.
One of many essential questions is whether or not Palou’s present contract with Ganassi states that he can’t negotiate particularly with one other IndyCar group. If that’s the case, that may counsel that McLaren and Palou have abided by the letter of the regulation: Palou’s preliminary public welcome on Tuesday got here from the Woking wizards, McLaren Racing ‘as an entire’, and never particularly from the Arrow McLaren SP group
A précis of their mixed inputs now follows, and admittedly it reads like an over-embellished plot for a cleaning soap opera. Take it as pure fiction if you want, however in mild of Tuesday’s shenanigans, it maybe now not appears fairly so outlandish. Right here goes.
A while in late April, because the IndyCar circus descends on Barber Motorsports Park for the fourth spherical of the season, McLaren CEO Zak Brown has a dialog with Palou. There may be mutual antipathy between Brown and Chip Ganassi and he loves the thought of grabbing CGR’s newest champion and including him to McLaren’s burgeoning roster of skills. Brown can’t but make guarantees relating to F1, however having Palou working for his group towards Chip’s group in IndyCar will amuse him, if just for a yr.
Then, as soon as Daniel Ricciardo decides his future, Brown, Andreas Seidl and the McLaren board may have the selection of O’Ward, Palou and presumably Herta relating to who crosses the Atlantic to affix Lando Norris of their F1 group. It appears a blissful embarrassment of riches. Brown and Palou attain provisional phrases – not a contract, however a verbal settlement based mostly on plenty of provisos.
Quickly, as a result of he’s who he’s, Chip finds out about this discuss and is understandably livid. Palou’s contract supposedly prevents him speaking to rival groups at this level, not to mention reaching a verbal settlement. He’s on a two-year-plus-option deal, and till a brand new contract is drawn up or Chip does or doesn’t take up the choice, Palou isn’t at liberty to barter with others. Definitely not in April of the second yr.
So with a theoretically watertight contract on file, Ganassi says to Palou, ‘To hell with that, I’ll take up my choice on you for 2023. No wage renegotiation in mild of your championship success, identical discount deal I had with you, with Felix Rosenqvist earlier than you, and with Ed Jones earlier than that – after which you may disappear.’
Brown is massively aggravated that this matter has arisen as a result of he seems to have been defeated by Chip, he can’t pay money for Palou till at the least 2024, and, superficially, it appears he’s breached the foundations of etiquette between group managers and inspired Palou to interrupt the foundations of his present contract.
And but, mid-July right here we’re, and apparently Brown hasn’t been defeated by Ganassi, he has obtained maintain of Palou for 2023, and the one query is relating to who’s in the proper, who’s within the improper, and whether or not the reality lies someplace in between.
How a lot of what’s described within the earlier 4 paragraphs is true? How a lot of it’s gossip and exaggeration? Towards the tip of final month, I had an off-the-record dialog with Palou, spouting forth my idea, asking him if he might verify or deny some model of that had taken place and that he was on the cusp of leaving Ganassi. He listened, smiled, laughed, and convincingly persuaded me it was largely improper, he was glad the place he was.
Palou is about to affix Rosenqvist the McLaren “household” – however will they be IndyCar team-mate in 2023?
Photograph by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images
The one factor we all know for certain is that there’s appreciable ill-feeling floating round, now in full public view due to Ganassi saying on Tuesday that it has taken up Palou’s choice, Palou then refuting that and declaring he’s going to depart his present group, and McLaren swiftly declaring it has signed the 2021 IndyCar champion, albeit together with his function as but unspecified.
One of many essential questions is whether or not Palou’s present contract with Ganassi states that he can’t negotiate particularly with one other IndyCar group. If that’s the case, that may counsel that McLaren and Palou have abided by the letter of the regulation: Palou’s preliminary public welcome on Tuesday got here from the Woking wizards, McLaren Racing ‘as an entire’, and never particularly from the Arrow McLaren SP group. Might that imply Palou will probably be in F1 as quickly as 2023 – not like O’Ward and Herta, Palou already has the requisite 40 factors for a Superlicence – and that Ricciardo has already instructed McLaren in personal that he’ll be standing down from his F1 trip on the finish of this season? Or if Wednesday’s statement from Ricciardo might be taken at face worth and he’ll as a substitute race to the tip of his contract subsequent yr, would Palou be ready to spend a season as an F1 take a look at driver and race-driver-in-waiting, working the occasional FP1 outing together with the TPC [testing previous car] programme?
Ganassi’s managing director Mike Hull re-emphasised to the IndyStar on Tuesday night that “Alex Palou is below contract with the group by way of 2023”, and there’s a idea that Hull’s remark, and the truth that Ganassi put out its launch effectively forward of the Palou-McLaren deal being introduced, was Chip’s chosen methodology of publicly reminding all concerned that there’s a great amount of monetary compensation to be paid to CGR ought to Palou discover his method right into a McLaren trip in 2023.
That might make sense from one perspective – however would a group as respectable as Ganassi concern a launch that additionally included an apparently fabricated quote from Palou? That might counsel a lack of perspective inside the CGR ranks, which is out of character. To me, it appears much more possible that somebody hit the set off on a launch that had been ready in anticipation of Palou remaining onboard to the tip of 2023.
It appears inconceivable, too, that the McLaren board can be ready to repay Ganassi in an effort to land Palou who, whereas probably the most full IndyCar driver of 2021, is hardly peerless by way of mixing youth with immense expertise. On this aspect of the pond, McLaren already has one such driver in O’Ward, and there’s one other of comparable calibre, Herta, who’s a part of McLaren’s TPC programme. In different phrases, McLaren hardly wants Palou so desperately that it will danger incurring a monetary penalty to land him, so it have to be assured that dealings with the reigning champ are kosher.
Palou’s choice to depart the group that turned him into an IndyCar race-winner and title-winner has been acrimonious sufficient that it’s not unreasonable to ask why he would so readily burn his bridges. Consider the stark distinction with Ryan Briscoe who was dropped by Ganassi on the finish of his torrid 2005 IRL IndyCar season, but didn’t whine about it publicly and a few eight years later discovered himself in a one-off Indy 500 entry for Chip. That earned him a full IndyCar season at Ganassi for 2014, and whereas he was once more let go at season’s finish, Briscoe didn’t throw anybody below the bus, and was again onboard for the Ganassi-run Ford GT IMSA programme from 2016 till 2019. That interval earned him 10 wins together with two within the Daytona 24 Hours.
So what sort of driver is so assured in his future that he would spurn and enrage the proprietor of one of many most interesting groups on the planet? Once more, an fascinating idea has bobbed to the floor: that Palou is just not aspiring to make racing his profession for the lengthy haul, or at the least, not from the cockpit, and that he’ll retire from driving by the point he’s 30. Undecided how a lot credence to provide that one.
Palou’s departure might assist cement Dixon’s future within the CGR IndyCar squad.
Photograph by: IndyCar Sequence
If this matter has been one thing of a nuclear bomb within the IndyCar paddock, the fallout is in some methods simply as fascinating. The disenchantment Ganassi felt over his dealings with Palou during the last eight weeks meant that he was anticipating at the least two vacancies in his IndyCar group on the finish of 2023, left by Palou and doubtless Jimmie Johnson.
Had Ganassi been in a position to retain Palou, he might need tried to influence Dixon to maneuver throughout to his Cadillac sportscar squad, however such a proposal might risked pushing Dixon to depart for AMSP. The McLaren group has lengthy hankered after the six-time champion and Scott himself is keen to extend his open-wheel profession and delay the full-time change to IMSA. Tuesday’s information, and AMSP’s stockpiling of expertise, could have dominated Dixon out of such a change but it surely has additionally concurrently made him extra fascinating to Ganassi’s IndyCar squad. No group proprietor would need to lose two champions within the area of two years.
Palou’s imminent departure additionally means Ganassi is on the prowl for a brand new occupant of the #10 automobile one yr sooner than he supposed, for even when Chip wins any authorized case over the matter, he’s not going to power a win from a driver who’s being retained below duress. Wherein case, Rinus VeeKay could be the very best out there choice. He has a excessive diploma of uncooked expertise and to the very best of Autosport’s information, he has not but inked a deal for a fourth season with Ed Carpenter Racing.
This complete affair will possible speed up the efforts of group house owners to lock down their present drivers past 2023, or make main performs for the foremost gamers who’re coming out there subsequent yr
However VeeKay has additionally been a candidate for Arrow McLaren SP’s third automobile, alongside O’Ward and new arrival Alexander Rossi, ought to Palou be destined for Method 1 and Felix Rosenqvist heading to Method E. Don’t assume that latter transfer, nonetheless: if Palou isn’t slotted into the #7 automobile, McLaren could be content material to stay with the still-improving Rosenqvist.
In the meantime, this complete affair will possible speed up the efforts of group house owners to lock down their present drivers past 2023, or make main performs for the foremost gamers who’re coming out there subsequent yr. I’d, for instance, be shocked if, in 2024, Crew Penske didn’t embody present incumbents Josef Newgarden, Will Energy and Scott McLaughlin.
Might Herta, with maybe his F1 ambitions thwarted by Palou’s transition and by the non-existence of an Andretti F1 group, lock himself right into a long-term take care of Ganassi? That combo, with Dixon and Marcus Ericsson alongside, could possibly be devastatingly robust.
Regardless of the state of affairs, regardless of the line-up, Ganassi will probably be robust subsequent yr, and will probably be robust in 2024 and past; Chip is not going to be left rummaging by way of the leftovers. Nonetheless indignant or betrayed he feels proper now, he’ll probably pull a masterstroke, and his group will stay a title contender.
In the meantime McLaren has assembled such a formidable driving power throughout its varied groups that it’s placing itself below comparable strain to that talked about by Jean Todt when he employed Michael Schumacher in Method 1. Ought to the assorted strands of the McLaren group fail to succeed now, they’ll have solely themselves in charge.
Arrow McLaren SP has confirmed it may possibly run on the entrance of the IndyCar pack with O’Ward and Rosenqvist within the sizzling seats.
Photograph by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images