McLaren playing the villain role and that’s great for INDYCAR

INDIANAPOLIS — I wrote just 24 hours ago how an intra paddock fight could be on our hands in the NTT INDYCAR Series. It’s not just the four drivers within the Andretti Autosport paddock that’s fighting, but we could also see some team owner vs. team owner fires that were starting to get a spark. Now, I feel like some accelerant was poured directly on the flame and it’s one that will bring some feuds within this paddock that may be so large that it remarkably would spill into pit lane.

Arrow McLaren SP is ruffling a lot of feathers and they don’t see to care. From the way the news of the James Hinchcliffe dealings were made to now, INDYCAR has a team that some will love and some will love to hate.

It’s polarizing. It’s just what this series has needed. Someone to come in a ruffle some feathers and not have any care in the world while doing so. It’s keeping everyone on their toes because you never know what McLaren is going to do next. They’re after anyone and everyone and it’s helping not only the driver market, but it’s making owners take notice too.

The inner workings at McLaren, well they don’t give a rip. They just want the top talent in the sport and aren’t afraid to get them. I mean how can you blame them though. Doesn’t everyone want to win and wouldn’t they do anything in their power to assemble the best talent they can find.

“We have always said that we want the best talent at McLaren,” Zak Brown said in a surprise announcement on Tuesday night.

If they have the money and resources to make it happen, why not? I can’t blame Brown or McLaren for doing so. Use what you got and if you got more than what others can offer, it’s their problem not yours.

They may not have necessarily done anything wrong in the Alexander Rossi or Alex Palou situations either. We know now that both weren’t happy with their present team situations. Andretti wasn’t fielding cars capable of winning championships for Rossi and the California native was sitting back watching his friends depart the team and being replaced with inexperience.

Marco Andretti was left out following the 2020 season. He’s an Indy only driver now. Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe were dropped for a 2nd year driver now Romain Grosjean and a rookie in Devlin DeFrancesco. Rossi was also watching Colton Herta rise to stardom and get the treatment Rossi deserved too.

All this was occurring while Andretti was seeking an F1 team and the lead driver they kept talking about to pilot those aspirations?

Herta. Not Rossi.

So Rossi knew last season that 2022 was going to be it. He was done. That’s where McLaren came in. Rossi could have approached them and not the other way around.

Same way for Palou. He joined Ganassi in 2021. He won a title that year. He was on a rookie scale salary and wanted a raise. Ganassi was willing to talk but didn’t have an offer yet. Palou grew mad. He too was unhappy with his team. He too talked to McLaren as well.

Did McLaren seek him? We don’t know. But why would McLaren not talk to Rossi and Palou when each were mad at their current teams? Is it kind of low and dirty to talk futures with drivers that are under contract with their current teams? Is it low and dirty to persuade them to come to you and leave their situation that they’re in?

Sure. But this is business not a marriage. McLaren wants to win and when they find out 2 of the best drivers in this hemisphere are unhappy and want to talk, you talk to them.

However, that could also rub people wrong too. McLaren is becoming the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers of racing. They’re not developing their own rather than signing drivers from outside.

Brown dangled the F1 carrot in front of Pato O’Ward’s face last year. Win a race, get a test. O’Ward did so at Texas in May 2021. Brown followed up with his end of the bargain in giving O’Ward a test in an F1 car last winter.

It did enough to make O’Ward want more. Following a championship caliber of a season in 2021, he felt like he was doing enough to merit a seat at McLaren F1 for the future. Instead, McLaren F1 announced a testing program for their cars this year and O’Ward wasn’t on it. Colton Herta was.

That pissed O’Ward off and he wasn’t shy about it.

Between those March comments and the middle of April, O’Ward put it behind him and realized that he was going to do his best on track and make it hard for McLaren to pass him over. It worked. He has their undivided attention.

O’Ward won at Barber, he finished 2nd in the Indy 500 and sits 5th in points at the moment. He’s on that testing program like Herta is now.

Pato O’Ward is looking to become the 1st non “Big 3” champion since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2002. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Notice I keep mentioning Herta. Andretti Autosport has F1 visions. They felt like they put a package together to get into the series for 2024. Herta was supposed to be a part of those plans.

Andretti and Zak Brown are friends. I question for how much longer though. Andretti’s F1 bid seems to be drawing a lot of resistance and it doesn’t look as favorable anymore. McLaren is legitimately interested in Herta.

What happens if they land him for 2024? Herta’s contract is rumored to be up at seasons end in 2023.

There’s a ride open with the F1 side for 2024. Daniel Ricciardo’s contract is up at the end of next season too. That has O’Ward’s attention and if Andretti doesn’t get into F1, it has Herta’s too. He tested for McLaren F1 the last 2 days.

Last month, was the formal Rossi announcement. What happens if he takes Herta away too? That can’t make Andretti happy.

Andretti may have to wait in line behind Chip Ganassi though. Ganassi feels they hold Alex Palou’s option for the 2023 season. They felt so strongly in that matter that they announced Palou would return next season.

A few hours later, Palou says that was all fabricated and that instead he’d join AMSP. That has to piss Ganassi off to no end. This is the 2nd straight driver of Ganassi’s 10 car to leave the team for McLaren.

RACER report stated that Zak Brown and Chip Ganassi aren’t going to be sharing many meals or exchanging any Christmas Cards any time soon already. Now there’s this.

McLaren isn’t going to back down. Like Chip Ganassi, Zak Brown likes winners. He’s assembling a talented cast of drivers as good as they come.

He has last year’s season champion now in 25-year old Alex Palou. He has 23-year old Pato O’Ward. He has 22-year old Colton Herta in an F1 testing contract. He has 30-year Felix Rosenqvist and 30-year old Alexander Rossi on multi-year deals too.

With 3 NTT INDYCAR Series cars as well as a pair of Formula 1 and Formula E cars, they have 7 rides for the taking and they’re after the best drivers in the world to pilot them. They don’t care where they come from or who they’re under contract with at the time, they’re going to make them offers they can’t refuse.

They have the last 2 Indy 500 runner-ups in the same team now.

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