Palou still thinks he’ll be a McLaren driver in 2023 but some in paddock questioning his character

INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Palout gets it. He understands the situation that he’s put himself in. He said so himself on Thursday from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The site of this weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).

“Oh, yeah. 100% I would do the same if I was on your side.”

But why would he put himself there? Why do this? How do you get to a point to where you win a championship just last season and 10 months later getting served a lawsuit from that same team against you?

“Well I mean we all are adults and all change minds or change thoughts and obviously when you win a championship you can have different ideas or opinions,” he said.

So why the change in opinion then? Why turn your back on the team that took a chance on you not even 24 months ago, one that you won a championship for in the first year and go somewhere different, especially when all signs are pointing to that team having the contract option on you?

“Oh, I mean the guy has a contract, like I mean, if not, then contracts wouldn’t be written for anything, right?” said current McLaren driver Pato O’Ward. “Like, from my understanding, he has a contract. And I don’t think he has a choice. When you have a contract and the team decides what you do, you don’t have a choice.”

So why does Palou feel like he has the choice to leave then? What happened between he and Chip Ganassi Racing that was so bad that he felt like he didn’t have a home there anymore?

“There’s opinions, but at the end of the day, the only people that knows the truth, it’s my people and obviously Ganassi’s people, but the rest they can have an opinion but they don’t really know the facts.

“I’m not afraid of people thinking that I’m a monster for being in the middle of this because at the end of the day, they don’t really know what’s going on. And also for the other side, like the side that is to supporting me and criticizing or people I don’t think that’s fair, because they don’t really know what’s going on at the end of the day.”

He’s right, we don’t truly know what’s really going on between the 2 sides. But what seems clear is, Ganassi and a lot of other people feel Palou’s signature is on a document that locks him into their organization for the 2023 season.

Palou though says the opposite. He stood on firm ground on Thursday saying that he feels his 2023 ride will be with McLaren. That much is true. What he thinks and what Ganassi thinks are 2 different things hence the lawsuit.

He says anything past this is above his head because he’s a racing driver and not a lawyer. The thing is, there’s a lot of smoke being blown and it’s going in the same direction from the same spot. It’s all centered around Palou.

Alex Palou is a man of many talents behind the wheel but one that’s muddied a wild situation this season – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

He’s commendable for coming to speak every week on the situation. No one else is. Chip Ganassi isn’t. Zak Brown isn’t. Palou is.

“I have nothing to hide,” he says on why he’s being so upfront with us. “So I like to explain as much as I can also because as you can understand there’s legal thing going around and you cannot really say everything so I like to keep you guys informed. Right? Might you say can we appreciate it just also so you don’t follow me during the weekend asking me questions before I get into a car so I get the job done.”

What’s odd by that is, he does have a job to do and one that has a murky future. No one knows when this lawsuit is going to end. Ganassi wants it expedited. But that’s at the mercy of the courts though. For a driver that thinks he’s going to be with McLaren next year, what happens if he’s not?

Palou hasn’t sat down man to man with his own boss right now Chip Ganassi. He admitted that they’ve not talked. Is that customary within the team? Marcus Ericsson talks frequently with Ganassi. Same for his future boss in Zak Brown. Palou says he’s not talked to him either.

I asked him if he’s tried to rally the troops and try to get the guys and gals on his 10 car going all in for him and this season. We’ve seen that happen in stick and ball sports with leaders of a team getting everyone together to avoid these types of distractions.

Palou told me he hasn’t.

Which is what makes this all that more confusing. Why isn’t he talking with anyone? Is it not that big of a deal to him?

“Yeah, obviously it’s on my mind. It’s it’s a big deal,” he told me. “It’s not something small and at the end of the day, I put myself on a really bad situation not having a seat.”

Does he regret handling it this way?

He says he doesn’t because he can’t change the past anyways. Which makes this even more puzzling. No remorse. No discussion with either boss. Just talks to the media which is appreciative but also way too confusing too which is why this seems as bizarre as it sounds.

I like Palou. He seems like a good guy. We know he’s a hell of a talent. He’s being a stand up man and talking to us when he doesn’t have to. But if he’s talking to us, why isn’t anything being done to put water on this fire?

I mean what makes this even more bizarre is that he knew what he was doing. He admitted that. When asked if the lawsuit caught him off guard, he said he expected it.

“To be honest, I was ready for it,” he said. “I knew it was going to come I didn’t know if it was going to come in three days or two weeks.”

So if you knew what you were doing putting yourself in this position, knew that something like this would happen, where’s the respect to have a heart to heart conversation with the guy that took a chance on you?

“I know that’s the problem but like there wouldn’t be a second problem if he just said ‘sorry.’ Because when you have a contract your hands are tied, man,” O’Ward said of the situation. “It doesn’t matter if you really want to leave the team. You can’t you cannot. Because the team chose to, to keep you and doesn’t matter where you are mentally does not matter. If, if that’s what the contract says then he’s got one and I don’t know how it is, but from my understanding is he’s got a contract. And I think, yeah, I mean, for me, it’s like, I mean, I’m very curious to see how it all plays out at all. I think everyone else is too but yeah, but like, I mean, I don’t think like he doesn’t have a choice. Unless the contract says that it’s got to be a mutual.”

That’s a potential future teammate here and he’s got questions. I asked O’Ward about that today. If Palou truly does end up with McLaren and his destination is here with Arrow McLaren SP, does he have trust issues already with his new teammate and how he handed this current situation?

“I think many drivers thought who he was,” he told me. “But yeah, what everybody can expect from me is honesty. Every single time doesn’t matter if you’re a reporter. Doesn’t matter if you’re a team owner, doesn’t matter if you’re my friend, I’m going to tell you the truth. And you will see right through me if I’m lying or not, and I choose not to do it because there’s no point in lying to somebody. Yeah, maybe it’ll rattle some things up, but I’m much I’d much rather be honest and in in explain how the situation is and then then not do that. Right. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of value in racing. And people appreciate honesty and loyalty. And I think that goes a long way. And and that’s where I’ll leave it.”

Another driver in the paddock in Callum Ilott had some choice words an hour of so before the bullpen session. Ilott was named as the driver of the No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet for Juncos Hollinger Racing for the foreseeable future. Despite his name being brought up as a potential replacement for Palou, Ilott never let it get that far and used some interesting wording as to why.

“The last couple weeks have been interesting for the whole paddock I think,” said Ilott. “It’s been quite entertaining.

“At the end of the day Ricardo and Brad have put a lot of investment in from the beginning, gave me the opportunity to come out here. The trust in them and the trust in me, vice versa, I really respected that.

“We did the deal quite early on this year to continue. 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, Look, this is what the situation is.”

Interesting. “Man of my word.” Hmm…”The trust in them and the trust in me, vice versa, I really respected that.”

Palou isn’t just sending messages within his team, he’s doing so to the paddock.

Now though, he has a championship to fight for. Does he feel like he can win a title with all this noise?

“Yeah, it’s tough,” he says but he also says that it doesn’t affect him or the team on track. He truly feels like he can close the gap and win a 2nd straight championship for the team currently suing him.

“And I think it’s gonna be awesome when I win,” he says.

Does this noise from the lawsuit affected their pace this weekend?

“There’s been better weekends that you go to. But to be honest, it didn’t really change much from Toronto. Yeah. And now there’s lawsuits involved. But to be honest, I think that was already like written. So it didn’t change from Toronto. I wish it was obviously better and they didn’t have 15 cameras pointing at me now, but yeah, I cannot change it.

“You always want to keep everybody happy and be amicable but we can see didn’t work that way. I always want to keep everybody happy and not to create a mess but yeah, I can change stuff.”

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