What does all this movement within McLaren do to Palou? Is he now in a lame duck and why maybe it’s best to eat crow and open talks back up with Ganassi

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Alex Palou may have made a deal with the devil. I’m not saying McLaren or Zak Brown is the devil. They’re not. You know that. I know that. But you know what I mean in the fact that Palou was irate at the way Chip Ganassi Racing was handling him by not delivering him a new contract worth more money. The 25-year old Spaniard felt he was delivering on the track for them by handing them over the Astor Cup championship trophy in just Year 1 of his contract with the team. Now he wanted Ganassi to prove how much they valued him.

Without a restructured deal in place, Palou went looking outside for a new one. He landed with McLaren. By all accounts, it’s coming to light that they were seeking a loophole in the event that Palou was going to their F1 program.

His attorney’s statement last week made it seem that way. Maybe Ganassi held Palou’s option for 2023 but only if he stayed in the NTT INDYCAR Series. Maybe there was language that if he was to drive outside of INDYCAR, he could leave. No one outside of Ganassi or Palou know the truth to these theories.

Nevertheless, Ganassi wasn’t letting his prized pupil go that easy and took this to court. He had to. Palou and his team filed a counter claim to take this to a federal court themselves. Both feel strongly about their stance. Palou feels like he’ll be a McLaren driver in 2023. Ganassi feels like that can’t happen with an option that he feels that he holds.

Did this cost Palou his future though?

In the meanwhile, McLaren didn’t stop at Palou. They tested Colton Herta in an F1 car. They have Pato O’Ward signed to a longer term INDYCAR deal with in the same testing program as Herta. While they added Palou to that mix, it appears that they found their main prize all along. Oscar Piastri.

If they win the rights to him, then it’s all over for Palou, Herta and O’Ward for their immediate F1 dreams with McLaren. Piastri is only 21. By all accounts, he’s supposed to be among the next great things overseas. You know if they try to take him from Alpine, they’re offering him more than they would have offered Palou. They want Piastri. Clearly. Who doesn’t. With luring him away from Alpine, they had to have a sweet offer and a guarnateed ride with them for 2023. With Lando Norris also locked in and him being only 22, they have their F1 team solidified for many years to come with both drivers literally at the legal drinking age here in America.

Which leaves Palou where?

Herta can stay with Andretti. O’Ward is signed through 2025. Palou….

Alex Palou last weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

It may be best for Palou to made amends with Ganassi but does Ganassi trust him anymore?

“Oh, I mean the guy has a contract, like I mean, if not, then contracts wouldn’t be written for anything, right?” said O’Ward of Palou last week. “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.”

Key there is saying, “sorry.” Maybe that’s where Palou needs to go. Maybe he can get out of his deal with Zak Brown because if he stays, he’s likely heading to Formula E. There doesn’t seem to be an option to drive for McLaren over here in INDYCAR for 2023. Formula 1 is now likely a distant pipe dream if both drivers on that side for McLaren are each under the age of 23.

Palou has all the talent in the world but if you’re another team in the paddock, I don’t think you trust him. Ganassi is clearly not happy with him. The 2 haven’t yet spoke still.

Maybe it’s time they do. Maybe it’s time Palou tucks his tail and decides to talk with Ganassi. How can they make this work together because what they do have is a great opportunity at greatness.

Palou is the future of Ganassi should he want it. Ganassi is a fair man. He’d pay Palou for being a star driver. There’s a reason Scott Dixon has remained there for so long. Palou is the next Scott Dixon or dare I say better?

Maybe they need to rekindle that flame of last year. It’s time.

Ganassi got Palou when he had no other offers and no money to bring to the table. Palou was forever grateful for that.

“But Chip — and not only Chip, but all the team trusted in me, believed in me, and they gave me this opportunity, which is amazing,” Palou said of Ganassi last year. “Like going from not knowing if you’re going to be around next year or not and then suddenly they give you the champion car, it’s like, wow, amazing.”

Ganassi was fond of Palou in return.

“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.

“Unfortunately for one reason or another, we haven’t found that right combination for a few years. You have to work just as hard. Sometimes you’re probably working harder than the guys on the 10 car and the 8 and the 48. They have to work harder sometimes than the champion.”

That’s why Ganassi valued Palou as much as he did. It’s also why Palou got a bit greedy and felt he was owed more right away. After just 16 races, he felt like he was already owed a hefty raise. I mean, I get it. He won a title and proved what kind of driver he was. But they were just 1 year into a 3 or 4 year deal.

Palou felt like he proved enough already to merit a new deal instead. Ganassi didn’t necessarily disagree, but they needed time to figure out a way to null the initial deal and find a way to sign Palou to a newly structured deal with better guarantees, more money and less team friendly options.

That takes time. Unfortunately for both sides, last season didn’t end until late September and for the first time since 2003, the next one would start in February.

They didn’t reach a new deal and Palou was upset. He felt internally he was wronged. He felt like he was owed more and felt like this team should be more of his. He started talking to McLaren. When Ganassi found it, he was pissed. He felt betrayed. This guy that had no where to go, Ganassi gave him 2 guaranteed years and provided him a car capable of a championship and now this guy wants out because of money?

The talks took a different turn and headed in a different direction. That direction could be to what leads him back to where he came. The wind blew to McLaren but maybe the McLaren wind blew him back to Ganassi.

It’s not too late. These court case can be dropped. It’s down to ego now and Ganassi maintains that Palou is his driver for 2023. Maybe it’s time for Palou to recognize that and stay put and then talk to Ganassi about a future deal.

Where this ruins Palou, there’s no way Ganassi offers him a deal to where Palou holds any option. He may get a pay raise that he’s owed and I know Ganassi would recognize that and offer him more money, but you can forget about Palou having any option to where he’s in control. That could be said of any team dealing with him. I don’t think he’s to be trusted so in that case, just stay here with Ganassi and INDYCAR and win a bunch of races and championships together.

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