McLaren’s moves the last 24 hours starting to pave a path for Palou, Piastri and Rosenqvist

INDIANAPOLIS – On Tuesday McLaren Racing announced that they have signed Rene Rast to their new Formula E team for the 2023 season. A day later, it was unveiled and McLaren F1 and Daniel Ricciardo agreed to a buyout to terminate the Australian’s contract early and will see him depart at seasons end.

Back in May, they reached a contract extension with Pato O’Ward for the NTT INDYCAR Series side of things with Arrow McLaren SP. A week later, they signed Alexander Rossi as his teammate. To close the month of June, they announced an extension with Felix Rosenqvist but didn’t specify if he’d be in INDYCAR or Formula E.

At the time, all signs were pointing for Rosenqvist to go to Formula E.

Brown made it known when he and Rosenqvist agreed to a multi-year extension that he wanted an experienced driver to anchor the Formula E side. Rosenqvist made the most sense in the fact that he used to race in the series and was a proven race winner in it at that.

A statement read this past June, “McLaren Racing is currently in the process of evaluating its driver line-ups for 2023 with the newly formed McLaren Formula E Team set to embark on its debut season in the all-electric racing series and plans to expand Arrow McLaren SP into a three-car team with Felix set to be driving in one of the two series.”

Zak Brown had similar language.

“I’m delighted to be continuing our relationship with Felix,” said Brown. “He’s a fantastic racer, with a lot of experience in many different types of racing cars. As a proven race winner in both categories, it was important for us to secure his talent within the McLaren Racing family as we work to finalize our plans for 2023. His experience in Formula E would be invaluable as we head into this exciting new era of racing for McLaren Racing but he has also made a fantastic contribution to our IndyCar team. I look forward to working together with him to finalize the best opportunity for him next season.”

Felix Rosenqvist at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Toronto. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

However, Rast brings similar experience himself. He raced “in a number of rounds between 2016 to 2021, in which he scored two podiums, with a highest place finish of second.”

That’s the wording from McLaren in their press release.

So is this:

“His previous experience in Formula E will be invaluable as we head into this exciting new era of racing for McLaren Racing. I’m delighted to welcome René to the McLaren Racing family,” Brown said in that release.

Rast’s experience allows Rosenqvist to maybe stay here now if that’s the path they each feel is best.

“For the Formula E stuff, I mean, I think that’s kind of secondary at this point,” Rosenqvist admitted in Nashville. “Mainly just focusing on what I’m doing here now, try not to get distracted by what’s going on in the background.”

A few weeks prior, he made it clear he wants to stay in INDYCAR following his Toronto podium.

“I want to be where I’m at right now,” Rosenqvist said back in Toronto. “I think Arrow McLaren SP has pretty much become a home for me. Yeah, it’s up to Zak. He’s the man who is making the moves. Probably going to take a couple of weeks before we know more. Hopefully today (Toronto) changed something. My ambition is to keep proving it that way.”

Then he said this during the Gallagher Grand Prix race weekend.

“INDYCAR, I think it’s kind of addicting in a way,” he says. “Like it’s very tough. It’s probably — I wouldn’t say like — the driver level is high everywhere in professional championships, but it’s just such a team effort to get everything right on the day in terms of setup, pit stop strategy. The driver has to be fit, he has to be focused. There’s just so many variables, and if you lose one second in a pit sequence, you’re gone. That’s your day gone.

“I think that whole thing becomes — like when you succeed and when you win a race or get a podium or whatever, it’s just something you want to do again because it’s very rewarding when you do well, but it can also be brutal when you’re struggling, as I did last year. It was a super tough season for sure.

“But yeah, I’m doing well, and I want to continue that, so yeah, hopefully I’ll stay.”

He has the stamp of approval from current teammate in O’Ward.

“I mean, I love the guy, and I think what makes the atmosphere in the team so good to work around him is that he’s a genuine good guy, and it’s very easy to work with him,” he says. “It’s in his best interest for the whole team to do well. He won’t section himself off and kind of — in the back of his head kind of wish bad upon the other car just to do better. No, I think that’s what makes our team very special is we’re all obviously pushing each other, but we’re both working together to create a package that’s going to be easier for both of us to drive and just to get better.

“The point is to have a team that is P1 and P2, right? That’s always going to be the goal.

“I just think he fits exactly what the team of McLaren Racing and all that stands for. In order to create a team or to make a team better and drive it forward, you need complete trust and transparency when working with each other. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing.”

However, on track success now has nothing to do with Rosenqvist’s future. Alex Palou does. McLaren announced in July that they have signed Palou. That came hours after Chip Ganassi Racing announced that they have exercised their option on the defending series champion. That’s now in the courts.

This month, Fernando Alonso announced he was leaving Alpine’s F1 team which meant Alpine was going to exercise their option on Oscar Piastri. However, in similar fashion, McLaren and Piastri instead think that they have a deal which would place Piastri within the McLaren family.

The problem was, Ricciardo was in 1 of the F1 seats. Now he’s not.

Let’s take a step back and look at the overall picture and landscape of McLaren for a second. There’s 3 NTT INDYCAR Series seats, 2 Formula One seats and now 2 on the Formula E side.

For INDYCAR, O’Ward and Rossi will occupy 2 of them on multi-year deals. 1 seat is open and it sounds like it’s down to Rosenqvist and Palou.

For Formula 1, Lando Norris is signed long-term for 1 seat and the other are between Piastri and Palou.

Rast will be in 1 of the 2 Formula E seats leaving 1 seat open there too which is between Rosenqvist and a yet to be named driver.

Rosenqvist admitted in Nashville that his future is largely dependent on the Alex Palou saga.

“Obviously it’s another car coming to the team next year,” Rosenqvist said earlier this month in Nashville. “I think it’s all depending on the (Alex) Palou case what’s going to happen with me.”

O’Ward about the Palou situation.

“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 O’Ward of Palou. “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.”

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.”

The writing on the wall is for this to end up:

INDYCAR: O’Ward, Rossi, Palou

Formula 1: Norris, Piastri

Formula E: Rast, Rosenqvist

But it’s all dependent of Palou because if they don’t retain him, then Rosenqvist stays in INDYCAR and Formula E gets a new driver.

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