INDIANAPOLIS — IndyCar champion Alex Palou, who has contracts signed with two different race teams for 2023 and is being sued by Chip Ganassi Racing, declared Thursday: “I will be in the McLaren family next year.”
The soap opera over Palou's future continued with more twists and turns than the Spaniard will face in Saturday's road course race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ganassi this week filed a lawsuit in Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis that names as defendants both Palou and ALPA Racing, which is listed as Palou’s “racing entity."
At issue is the contract Ganassi holds with the 25-year-old driver. The team owner says he picked up his exclusive option on Palou to bring him back next year for a third season; Palou says he informed CGR he's leaving and signed a contract with McLaren Racing.
McLaren boss Zak Brown has not decided if he will use Palou in a third IndyCar seat or in Formula One, but Palou for the first time since the saga began July 12 firmly stated he will be wearing McLaren's papaya orange next season.
“We are disappointed that Chip Ganassi Racing would attempt to keep Alex from an opportunity to compete in Formula One, and even more so with CGR’s public court filings and continued commentary to the press on this matter," Palou's attorney, Rachel Epstein of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, said Thursday. "We would hope the parties can resolve this amicably, but if not, we look forward to resolving this matter in a private arbitration, as CGR has requested.”
Epstein is the first to acknowledge that a shot in F1 is a primary reason for Palou wanting to leave Ganassi. Palou has not divulged much about his reasoning to jump from the No. 10 car after only two seasons.
He has never driven or tested an F1 car before but does hold the super license required by governing body FIA to compete in the world's top motorsports series. Asked if it was McLaren's ability to get him into F1, a salary dispute or something else that was luring him away from Ganassi, Palou declined to say. But does he want to drive an F1 car?
“Everybody wants to,” he said.
How does he make that happen?
“I'm not a lawyer; I'm a racing driver,” Palou shrugged.
The entire paddock is watching the Palou situation play out as drivers are unsure if Ganassi's No. 10 car will be open.
The situation emerged too late for rookie Callum Illot, who began talks in April with Juncos Hollinger Racing on a contract extension that was formally announced Thursday. The 23-year-old British driver who has been part of the Ferrari Formula One development program said other teams have reached out to him over the last two weeks. It was too late for Illot to move on to a bigger program.
“The last couple weeks have been interesting for the whole paddock I think. It’s been quite entertaining,” Illot said. “I’m a man of my word. Of course, there was a lot of interest from other people, but I was very honest from the very beginning if anyone approached me.”
Palou certainly sounds as if he expects his current seat at Ganassi to be available next year to another driver, but in the meantime is in the thick of another title race. He lost ground last weekend during the Iowa Speedway doubleheader and heads into Saturday's race sixth in the standings, 44 points behind leader and teammate Marcus Ericsson.
Asked if he can still win the championship amid all the distractions, Palou said “it will be amazing when I do.”
Ericsson said he will continue to speak to Palou and work with his teammate until directed to stop, but CGR has cut back Palou's access to team data. He and Ganassi have not spoken since the fallout began three races ago.
“People are going to have opinions, but I am not afraid of people thinking I'm a monster for being in the middle of this because at the end of the day they don't really know what is going on,” Palou said.
Among those who aren't sure about Palou's character are star Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O'Ward, who could be teammates in IndyCar with Palou next year.
Palou's contract is specifically with McLaren Racing, which means Brown can use him anywhere in the organization. O'Ward's contract is with Arrow McLaren — and both drivers want a shot at F1.
“I think many drivers thought we knew who he was,” O'Ward said. “I feel like he'll say a lot of things but then he does the complete opposite, which I don't think is a secret. We've all seen it. It kind of seems like reverse psychology, so whatever he's saying, expect the absolute difference.”