INDIANAPOLIS — Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren Racing are in a high speed game of tug-of-war for Alex Palou’s services. On Tuesday afternoon, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that they have exercised their option on Alex Palou to return to his seat in the No. 10 Dallara-Honda for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season. I felt like that was a bit off in a sense that Ganassi doesn’t typically do these types of announcements. I never once saw a press release that they did the same for Marcus Ericsson to return to his No. 8 Dallara-Honda between last season and this but here he was.
Which is why this doesn’t at all make any sense.
“Alex’s track record speaks for itself,” said Team Owner Chip Ganassi in the release. “He’s a proven champion and one of the most formidable drivers in the world. We are very excited to continue working together.”
The release also said that:
“Palou won CGR’s 14th INDYCAR SERIES championship in 2021, also becoming the first Spaniard to ever win the season title. The defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion has continued to impress this year, securing his 12th podium finish in his 25th career race with Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio.
“Palou will return to the CGR fold for his third season with the team next year.”
Here’s where this gets even more interesting. There was a quote in the release from Alex Palou.
“It’s a great feeling knowing I’ll be back with Chip Ganassi Racing next season,” said Palou in the release. “The team welcomed me with open arms from day one, and I’m excited to continue working with Chip, Mike Hull, the folks on the No. 10 NTT DATA car and everyone within the organization. The goals remain the same and we will continue to work relentlessly towards achieving them.”
Palou is stating that he never said that quote. That can happen though in a sense that some teams have their PR folks write these types of statements or quotes for the higher ups and even drivers and will then get the approval of those said people before posting.
There was also a quote in McLaren’s statement too.
“I’m extremely excited to join the driver roster for such an iconic team as McLaren,” Palou is quoted in their statement. “I’m excited to be able to show what I can do behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and looking at what doors that may open. I want to thank everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing for everything they have done for me.”
So which is the right one?
Was there a slip within the Ganassi walls? Someone has to be deceiving here. It can’t be both. A theory could be that Ganassi knew Palou was going to be leaving and made the announcement before Palou and McLaren could. By exercising Palou’s option, which they obviously did, in order for Palou to leave McLaren would have to pony up a hefty buyout.
Which is where this appears to be heading.
But did Ganassi truly know though? If Ganassi knew Palou was leaving anyways, why include the Palou quote?
I truly think Ganassi felt Palou was coming back which is why you include the quote because why do so knowing McLaren was going to come out with something later?
Which leads me to, was this Palou to McLaren announcement even planned or spurred in a heat of the moment rage?
It was McLaren, not the Arrow McLaren SP side, that announced this on a Tuesday night. That’s near midnight in their time zone in England. If they truly were going to announce this on Tuesday, why do so at midnight in their time range and why do so after 7 p.m. ET?
Which is why it doesn’t make much sense at all the timing of this nature.
The McLaren news came minutes after Palou’s tweets. Palou tweeted his side at 7:14 p.m. ET. McLaren tweeted Palou’s signing with them 8 minutes later at 7:22 p.m. ET.
I highly doubt Palou and McLaren talked their future plans and elected to sign a deal in a span of 8 minutes. I also highly doubt they did so in the time that Ganassi tweeted their news at 3:55 p.m. ET until Palou tweeted his at 7:14 pm ET.
Palou and McLaren had to have had a deal in place prior to Ganassi’s release near 4 o’clock ET but waited to play their cards at the right time.
That likely means Ganassi has a contract in place with Palou’s signature for 2023. It’s all part of the original deal. Somehow between February of this year and July 12, Palou had to ink a deal with McLaren too. I don’t buy for a second Palou signed with McLaren between the hours of 4 pm ET and 7:15 pm ET.
Which means something deep is up here. This would be like Patrick Mahomes winning the Super Bowl and midway through the next season, the Kansas City Chiefs announcing that they’ve come to an agreement for the two sides to stay together for the following season. Then, a few hours later, Mahomes saying that news was false and that not only is he not returning, he already has a deal in place with the Denver Broncos.
Something doesn’t add up.
There’s a strong rumor floating around and it has a lot of weight, enough for me to say it here, that a few months ago that Ganassi and Palou were discussing a lucrative extension to keep the Spaniard in the camp for years to come.
Allegedly. Their initial contract that they’re operating on currently is for 3 years. The final year (2023) was a team option. Ganassi knew they could exercise the option for next season, then renew for a longer deal after if need be. However, Palou was already talking to McLaren. Which one sought the other?
That part didn’t matter.
The fact they were even talking to one another hurt Ganassi. Some words were said and they each knew then 2023 would likely be it. My question remains though, why Palou would even open the door to McLaren initially. Why answer that knock? Why even think to turn your back on the team that not only took a chance on you, delivered you a championship and has the possibility to make you a star for a long time here?
I get Palou signed a 3-year deal on a smaller scale and now that he was a champion wanted a bigger piece of the pie and a seat at the big kids table, but these things take time. There wasn’t a way for this to happen between October of last year and February of this. After all, this was the 2nd year of a 3 year deal. Word is Palou wanted a new contract. A raise on the team option and a payday for 2024 and beyond. When Ganassi didn’t budge at Palou’s pace, Palou started talking to McLaren.
When Ganassi found out? The talks of a raise stopped. He likely felt betrayed and the future of Palou and Ganassi grew rocky.
The two were a championship winning marriage in 2021 and have had a strong season in 2022 but now it’s not good enough for Palou.
Which is why Ganassi announced what they did on Tuesday afternoon. They played their cards. They truly felt Palou was theirs for 2023 because of this option year. Were they pissed? Yes. Did they know it was a one year rental? Yes. But they honestly felt Tuesday afternoon and even after the McLaren announcement, that Palou is theris.
Which is also why McLaren said what they did too in a sense that they’ve locked him in. They can make Ganassi look bad here when Ganassi isn’t doing anything outside of human nature. They wanted to keep Palou all along. Imagine being on your honeymoon and your significant other is snooping around for a new marriage.
Ganassi feels betrayed. So he’s honoring his original agreement to keep Palou in his camp through 2023.
That in turn makes McLaren and Palou not look so good anymore either which is why this is as spicy as news can be for a series that has lacked this type of drama.
McLaren being in Palou’s ear soured Palous relationship with Ganassi. Let’s face it here, even if Palou sought out McLaren, the papaya team was telling Palou things to make him happy. More money. F1 tests. He worth more to them than he’d be at Ganassi. They had a gem land in their lap and they weren’t afraid to court it. You don’t get many opportunities to land a defending series champion at such a young age come your way. Usually these guys are locked up for the long haul. Palou came to McLaren’s door and they weren’t letting him leave.
“I would never say no to anything that has a steering wheel and four wheels,” Palou said back on April 6. As he said, we like to race. I would do NASCAR and INDYCAR in the same year if I could, like all the races. We like to race. That’s what we like.
“Obviously, if it’s such a big series like INDYCAR, NASCAR, or F1, you can not say, ‘oh, no, I would say no,’ because what if a good opportunity comes, maybe you want to take it. That doesn’t mean that that’s the target. That’s not the target. The target is where I am now and try and win the most I can. But, yeah, at the end of the day NASCAR is the number one series of oval racing, especially here in the U.S. F1, it’s the biggest series of motorsport.”
An F1 carrot and more money has to be on the line to lure Palou away but did they do it ethically? That’s what’s going to make a war between Ganassi and AMSP interesting.
But what about 2023? What about the rest of 2022? This is likely heading to the courts and even if Ganassi wins, does he keep Palou who doesn’t want to be there in that car?
What good is that? It’s a lame duck status and sends a bad message to the entire organization. That’s where Ganassi looks like what is happening at Andretti. Intrateam chaos happens. Ganassi likes winners and didn’t win as many races and championships over his career in being foolish.
However, why let Palou walk without pay too? Why let him go race against you? Ganassi knows Palou’s talents clearly.
“It’s as big as it gets. Just to see this young man come along, it’s been a few dry years in the 10 car,” Ganassi said after Palou gave him his 14th INDYCAR championship last year in Long Beach. “I go back to think of Dario and Dan Wheldon in the 10, all the successes they had.”
Dario Franchitti even gave him rave reviews too.
“As Chip calls it: You’re either a Sunday driver or your not. I think with Alex we have a Sunday driver,” the four-time series champion said of Palou.
That’s where this gets messy. Ganassi can park Palou and put someone else in that car for the rest of this season and all of 2023 while paying Palou to stay away.
They’re paying him pennies on the dollar and can afford to pay him to stay away. They can also keep him under contract and force him to sit out 2023 entirely too.
That’s why the McLaren release to me was a bit vague. They can’t say INDYCAR yet and Palou has enough superlicense points (55) to race in Formula One if they need to do something for Palou to get him out of the contract early.
It would cost a lot of money to buy him out but McLaren is seeking to do so if needed. Does Ganassi allow it?
Palou will be in the same F1 testing program as Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta but on a similar contract to Felix Rosenqvist as he’s not tied to any respective series.
“We have always said that we want the best talent at McLaren, and it’s exciting to be able to include Alex on that list,” Zak Brown said. “I’m also looking forward to seeing him get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car as part of our Testing of Previous Cars (TPC) program alongside Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta as we continue to build our driver talent. Alex is an incredibly talented driver who has won in every series he has raced in, and I’m happy to welcome him to the McLaren family.”
This is a bombshell of a story as it’s not often you get a defending series champion, one as young as Palou is, to leave that said team for a new team less than a year later.