INDIANAPOLIS — The dust has settled and Alex Palou and Felix Rosenqvist ended up exactly where they were when this while thing started. With that said, I think both are serious championship contenders for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season.
Just look at how each ended their 2022 years. Palou in victory lane and Rosenqvist just shy of a podium. But it wasn’t just about last Sunday either. I look at how well each performed under unfortunate circumstances.
Rosenqvist agreed to a new deal with McLaren at the end of June. It was for multiple years. At the time, most thought it would land him in Formula E. That’s not what the Swede wanted though. He wanted to stay.
He went out and showed that he’s deserving of a ride. The problem was, it wasn’t up to him or on track results. It was now up to the courts.
McLaren also was courting Palou and if Palou won his case against Ganassi, then he’d be in Rosenqvist’s seat next year.
That uncertainly was a cloud around he and his team. He admitted as much last month in Nashville.
“Yeah, I think it’s mainly distracting for the team, for the engineers, mechanics. They’re all asking questions,” he said. “They’re part of this team as much as I am. Obviously without the driver, it’s a big part of what makes their day. They want to know, are they going to continue with me next year? What’s going to happen?
“It’s not the optimal case. I think we’ve done a good job focusing. But as I say, we had a run of mechanical failures, a bit of slipups here and there. I’m sure these things doesn’t help.
“Yeah, it’s not optimal. I think I’m always for negotiating or doing deals here and there. The thing I think is that’s for the off-season, not the season. Obviously this whole thing has opened very early in the year. I think it’s not optimal for our team. I think it affects people in the organization. It’s not good.
“During the week there’s a lot of talks. It’s not optimal. I’m sitting here instead of being in my engineering room. I’m talking about Formula 1 stuff. I think that’s where it’s not optimal.
“For now we got together a couple days ago at the shop, said, Let’s focus on the details here and try to use the performance we have right now to do some good finishes for the rest of the season, then everything else will pan out in time.
“But, yeah, I mean, you just have to jump in the car and put on your helmet and forget about it. End of the day, it’s simple as that. I just drive the car. That’s what I have to do better than ever before right now.”
He did just that. In the 9 races that the cloud started hovering over Rosenqvist’s future here, he had 6 top 10 finishes including a pole as well. It showed Zak Brown that maybe he did deserve to be here and Brown didn’t want to force a driver against his will to race in a series that he didn’t want to race in.
So the Sept. 30 deadline was looming and the risk of losing him was real. So was the possibility of losing Palou. It was a risk Brown wasn’t willing to take.
For Ganassi, this all proved they were right all along. While the results slipped for Palou once the discussions in May starting taking place, it’s not like he was all that far off.
Palou had 9 top 10 finishes in the final 12 races under this dark cloud. He even admitted that he and Ganassi spoke at Portland about maybe just staying put and dropping this case.
With the weight starting to subside, Palou went out and won the season finale by a half of a minute over the field. He spanked the 25 other drivers by 30+ seconds.
He did so with limited access. I mean Ganassi had to cut off him, right? Why keep a disgruntled driver leaving at seasons end with access to secret data. He still performed. The reason he had top 10’s and not top 5’s and podiums were down to just that.
When he had data, he had 3 podiums in the first 4 races. He won the season finale.
Now I look at what each driver can do next year without this uncertainty. I think it’s clear the longer term focus for both drivers is to remain in these rides and they can each thrive.
It also elevates Pato O’Ward who had nothing but praise for Rosenqvist all season.
“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.”