With recent contract saga’s does this change the future landscape of how driver contracts look? I asked Herta and Rosenqvist on Tuesday plus what O’Ward told me last week

INDIANAPOLIS — First it started with Alex Palou. Then it tricked to Fernando Alonso. Now Oscar Piastri. When does it end? Palou wanted out of Chip Ganassi Racing. However, Ganassi felt and strongly still feels like they hold the rights to Palou for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season. That didn’t stop Palou from also signing his name to a McLaren Racing document either.

He strongly thinks he’ll be a McLaren driver next year even after all this drama.

Now, that battle is in the courts.

“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 last Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “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.

“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. 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.”

Colton Herta told me on Wednesday that this is what it all boils down to.

“I can definitely tell you that there’s three types of options. There’s a driver option, a team option and a mutual option in contracts, and like (Fernando) Alonso, he had a driver option, so he was the one in control of his future,” Herta admitted to me.

“For me, I’ve had options in the past, but they’ve been team options, and I’ve had mutual options where we both have to agree on a price to pay me, how long to do it for and whatnot. It’s a lot to digest. It definitely depends on what type of options you have, though.”

Video from my questions here

That’s where we got to today. Reports are circulating that Alonso told Alpine just this past weekend that he inted to come back in 2023. Sounds like he held that option. The only thing stopping him from opting in for 2023 was that he wanted more years to his next contract. Alpine likely wanted the team option for 2024 or 2025 but Alonso wanted control. They never came to an agreement.

Felix Rosenqvist scored the pole for Saturday’s race at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Aston Martin stepped in and signed Alonso in the process to replace Sebastian Vettel who’ll retire at seasons end. As a result of that, Piastri was optioned by the team to replace Alonso.

See this is where that saga all starts. Piastri is an Alpine reserve driver. Alpine expected Alonso back so they were looking at avenues to house him until they can figure out a way for him to come back over in 2024. Williams seemed like the most likeliest of destinations. Piastri didn’t want to race for the struggling team so he looked elsewhere and from what it sounds, he’s been now linked to that same McLaren seat that Palou thought he was linked to.

The problem is, Daniel Ricciardo says that he hold the option to keep his seat for 2023.

So who has what? That’s where this saga runs deep and one that I have to think team owners aren’t going to take lightly. Neither are drivers. Future contracts are going to get messy because neither side wants to relinquish control, especially with how these situations are playing out right in front of our eyes.

“I mean, I think it seems like whenever this happens, it’s always related to options,” Rosenqvist told me on Tuesday too. “I think as a rule, teams generally put options in their contracts because they want to control the drivers.

“I think this is my big case for drivers to get together and say let’s not sign any options, or let’s not put options in our contracts, because it just creates a mess.

“I think if you have an option, that means that there will potentially be a mess if both parties don’t agree.

“Yeah, I think it might change a lot of things. There’s probably going to be a lot of teams and drivers think about going forward signing their contracts.”

So, does each respective series have councils that represent each side? NASCAR has one. What about INDYCAR?

“Yeah, I mean, whenever you sign a contract you’re always — first of all, you actually sign it, which is you’re obliged to follow what it says,” said Rosenqvist to me. “But I think also a lot of us, we’ve all been there when you’re young, maybe you don’t have any money in your bank account, you have a deal going, and it’s very one-sided, but you still sign it because it’s the best thing you can have.

“I think in those cases, I remember when I came to Formula E there was a lot of drivers who came up to me and they were like, hey, think about this, like you should definitely have this in your contract, and I was like, oh, I really appreciate that because I didn’t know anything. I never got paid to drive anything before that.

“I remember I really appreciated it at the time and it maybe got me out of potential trouble. But yeah, I think at some point you kind of have to — like it’s definitely becoming a bit of an issue right now and it’s creating a lot of mess, so hopefully we can just get together as a community, and like hey, what’s going on here.”

With that said, how much do these drivers know what’s truly in their contacts or do they have management taking care of their off the track dealings? Both Herta and Rosenqvist said they know exactly what’s in theirs.

“I read all my contracts,” Herta said. “I know exactly every bit of it, when I’m allowed to talk, when I’m not, and whatnot. I think it’s important. I think you have to.”

Rosenqvist agreed.

“Yeah, your name is on it, right, so you have to know exactly what you’re signing. It seems like in these cases maybe that wasn’t the case.

“It’s always complicated. You don’t know all the details. But it’s definitely interesting. It makes you think of what can be different.”

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