Written by Mario Rodríguez, edited by Ishani Aziz
Álex Palou is undoubtedly one of IndyCar’s top stars. In 2021, in only his second season (and his first in a top team), he produced some stellar performances which saw him claim the championship, even coming extremely close to winning the Indy 500 after an intense battle with Helio Castroneves. The relationship between team and driver seemed great, and fans assumed that a contract extension for the 2023 season was only a matter of time. But the situation took an unexpected turn earlier this week, with Palou apparently contracted by two teams for next year.
As expected, CGR released a statement announcing they had exercised their option to extend Palou’s contract for 2023, including some quotes made by the driver himself expressing his happiness. This wasn’t a big shock, since it was perceived as the most likely outcome despite rumours suggesting that the Spaniard might move to Arrow McLaren SP. However, Palou quickly denied his current team’s announcement, stating that he hadn’t approved its release and he had already informed CGR he would leave the team after 2022 due to “personal reasons”, even declaring he never actually made the quotes that were attributed to him. And later that day, McLaren Racing announced the signing of the 2021 champion for the next season.
To make the situation even stranger, McLaren’s announcement was made on their main social media accounts, not on their IndyCar profiles. This was due to the fact that they confirmed Palou’s arrival to the team, but not where he will actually race for them, in a similar way to how they announced Felix Rosenqvist’s contract extension earlier this year. They also added that “Our full driver line-up across all racing series will be confirmed in due course”. Obviously, the logical move to expect would be the Spaniard joining McLaren’s IndyCar team, and this can be interpreted as a way to avoid complications during the almost certain legal process that is expected to take place, but it leaves the door open for imagination. After all, moving from a top team to one that appears to be a little further back can seem a bit odd. But with that deal comes a test in which Palou will take the wheel of the McLaren MCL35M, their 2021 Formula One car, along with fellow IndyCar drivers Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta.
But even with that, the possibility of an F1 future for Palou seems unlikely- for 2023 at least, as Daniel Ricciardo already confirmed he is not leaving the team until the end of next season, when his current contract expires. However, we already know that contracts mean very little in this sport, and the presence of Palou, O’Ward and Herta will certainly represent a warning for the Australian driver. After winning the IndyCar championship, Palou expressed he wasn’t interested in joining the F1 grid as he didn’t want to fight for points instead of wins. But McLaren is one of the sport’s most iconic teams, and they seem to be slowly coming back to the top despite their bad start to this new era of the competition. And if there is a small chance to join them, even for 2024, Palou might want to secure it. This is just pure speculation, of course, and he will probably stay in IndyCar for some time, but he would without a doubt be a fantastic addition to the grid.
We are still far from hearing the end of this confusing predicament. The legal battle will probably last for some time. And while legal action takes place, racing action will resume with IndyCar’s return to Toronto this weekend. Palou is currently fourth in the driver standings, 35 points behind championship leader and teammate Marcus Ericsson, and will be looking to achieve his first win of the season… unless CGR decides to drop him prematurely. Regardless of the outcome, we are in for an interesting conflict which is unlikely to be resolved soon.