MONTEREY, Calif. – While Alex Palou’s future remains very uncertain (and perhaps still far from resolved), there seems little doubt that Felix Rosenqvist will return to the NTT IndyCar Series next year.
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told a small group of reporters Sunday morning that the team will make a decision by the end of September on who will drive alongside IndyCar teammates Pato O’Ward and Aelxander Rossi in 2023.
McLaren have signed Palou and Rosenqvist for next year. Palou is embroiled in a contract dispute with Chip Ganassi Racing, who have filed a lawsuit against the series’ defending champion, claiming the team will retain the rights to the Spaniard.
Rosenqvist, who is entering his second season at McLaren after two years at Ganassi, initially signed an extension in June that had fired him for IndyCar or Formula E depending on where McLaren was seated.
But with Palou’s situation still undecided, the team must keep Rosenqvist through the end of September or allow him to go to another IndyCar drive. Brown said McLaren would no longer discourage Rosenqvist, who has been courted by several IndyCar teams for 2023, from keeping him in Formula E.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Brown said. “I would say I’m very happy with Felix. He’s done an excellent job this year. He’s been strong all year. We’ll see how that works. I would be very happy to have Felix back in our car.
“We have to make a decision because I think he would be picked up by another (IndyCar) team.”
Although Rosenqvist’s outlook is reasonably clear, Palou’s situation remains hazy. Ganassi and Palou were reportedly working towards arbitration to try to reach an agreement and avoid a court case.
When asked how likely it is that Palou’s situation will be resolved within the next three weeks, Brown said: “Hard to say. I’d say the ball’s in Chip’s hands.”
Brown hesitated when asked if McLaren would back out of its deal with Palou, but hinted that the organization (which has entries in Formula 1, IndyCar, Formula E and Extreme E) could employ Palou when he next year wouldn’t race in IndyCar.
“Ultimately we have to make a decision to be prepared for next year, so I think by the end of the month we’ll know what we’re doing,” Brown said. “I’m really happy to be able to continue testing (Palou) in a Formula 1 environment, but that would be something Alex and Ganassi would have to agree on.”
This is the second case this season that McLaren has been involved in a high-profile contract dispute. The team recently won the rights to Oscar Piastri via Alpine in a case decided by the Formula 1 Contract Approval Committee.
Here are the highlights of what Brown had to say about both disputes in a 30-minute session ahead of the IndyCar season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Sunday morning:
Q: Are you surprised at how you’ve gotten caught up in similar issues on multiple shows?
Brown: “Those were two completely different topics that just came together at the same time. Of course I’m happy with the result, not only with the result, but with what then became clear, what happened. Because we didn’t say anything about it. We knew we had a contract. I think what the CRB decided was unanimous. They made their comment. So it was good to get that done. Too bad you have two at the same time.
Q: Is there a scenario where it wouldn’t be Rosenqvist or Palou in the third car next year? Is there a scenario for a different rider to be Pato and Rossi’s teammates next year?
Brown: “Just sitting here, no. But who knows what will happen tomorrow when I’m sitting here now.”
Q: What happens if you face Chip (Ganassi) today? Are you talking?
Brown: “I haven’t spoken to him since all of this happened, but yeah, I certainly would.
Q: Would he speak to you?
Brown: I do not know. You would have to ask him (laughs). I’ve had some good times with Mike Hull (Managing Director at Ganassi). Mike Hull and I get along very well.
Q: Are you surprised that after the Oscar Piastri situation there was a perception that McLaren was poaching drivers?
Brown: “I think before people saw the CRB verdict, they didn’t know what they didn’t know and we purposely kept our mouths shut. Now that the verdict has come out in great detail, it’s clear what happened there. We realized there was a lot of noise, but we knew the truth would eventually come out and we just have to endure it rather than make a running comment. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the noise and some direct messages I received from fans. But now we’re very pleased that the CRB came out and that’s very clear there and I’m sure we’ll resolve that here shortly.
Q: Did the decision to stay with Piastri mother come from how Palou transpired?
Brown: “No, those were two completely separate issues that unfortunately came together at the same time, so it was very loud, but again we really didn’t comment on anything. I think it was better to just let things flow and add some color afterwards. I think if you look at all the comments from Otmar (Alpine team principal Szafnauer) he played the CRB a little bit and how confident they were and now I think he looks a bit goofy. I think that’s why it’s best to keep quiet and we can talk about it afterwards if there’s anything concrete to say.
Q: Does IndyCar need a Contract Recognition Board?
Brown: “That worked very well in Formula 1. It was a one day hearing. Got back to same week. It was unanimous. The CRB has only been tested three times in its existence and I think this is the first time in this situation at IndyCar. So I don’t know if you need one because one thing happens. There might not be another one for 20 years, but the CRB has worked well in Formula 1.”
Q: What happened to Felix and the contingency plan to get him into Formula E?
Brown: “There has been a lot of speculation about this, so it’s better to clear that up. When we made the announcement, Felix was happy to continue at IndyCar and was also very happy to get into Formula E. So we had an agreement between us at the time and said I’m happy wherever you put me. So, to give him and us some comfort, we announced that we will be racing together. After that time, he decided to stay with IndyCar and it happened. Instead of me going, we agreed that I would never stop a rider from doing what he wanted to do. So I said to Felix that I understand you want to be in IndyCar. Lets see what happens. There are other activities that came out after that. We have announced Rene Rast (for Formula E), we are finalizing who will be in the second car. So finally (Felix) released from our verbal agreement. We had a handshake and after that he wanted to do IndyCar and I understand that. I don’t think it would have been right to say yes, but we agreed.
Q: If you are not part of the Ganassi-Palou lawsuit but want to help move things forward, how does that work?
Brown: “I think everyone wants a solution. We do it. Alex does. Ganassi will. So whatever we can do to help people make decisions, we’re willing to help to some extent. But the last race of the year here, we have to get on with our planning for next year.”
Q: So it’s practically 100 percent certain that Felix Rosenqvist will be driving in IndyCar next year, whether it’s your team or someone else?
Brown: “It’s 100 percent sure he wants that, I couldn’t say if he wasn’t racing here he would definitely be racing (in IndyCar). I think he would. But I don’t know exactly.”
Q: Did the acrimony of the Palou situation surprise you?
Brown: “No. It’s not what I thought when I went in because I understood that he was free and clear.
Q: Did he mislead you?
Brown: “I don’t want to comment on our conversations.”
Q: Is your ultimate goal to bring Alex Palou to Formula 1?
Brown: “My biggest ambition is for Alex to be a McLaren Racing driver and we have the advantage of having a variety of teams. Surely he will have opportunities that we can offer him. The possibility of Formula 1, I think that’s what makes him attractive.”
Q: Are you still in contact with Alex Palou after the IndyCar season is over or are you waiting until it’s all over?
Brown: “We are waiting. I think they have to solve the situation.”