Palou to stay with Ganassi, Rosenqvist to stay with AMSP, why this is a better move and a timeline to how we got here

INDIANAPOLIS — I wrote about this multiple times over the last couple of months and cooler heads finally prevailed. Alex Palou will indeed remain with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season while Felix Rosenqvist stays with Arrow McLaren SP.

So how did we get here?

Well, you have to go all the way back to February before the June announcement that Rosenqvist will remain with McLaren Racing to start with.

  • Feb. 9, 2022: Lando Norris signs a new long-term deal with McLaren.
  • March 12, 2022: McLaren announces F1 testing plans, Herta on it, O’Ward not.
  • March 16, 2022: O’Ward is upset he was passed over for F1 test
  • May 2022: It’s believed this is when Alex Palou and Ganassi started their different paths. Palou was wanting a restructured deal. Ganassi couldn’t get it done so by all accounts, it led Palou to McLaren to discuss a deal for 2023.
  • May 1, 2022: O’Ward wins Barber and says he and AMSP talking about contract has helped improve results.
  • May 27, 2022: Pato O’Ward signs new deal to keep him with Arrow McLaren SP through 2025.
  • June 3, 2022: Alexander Rossi announces a new deal to have him drive for AMSP for 2023

June 23

On the morning of the test here at IMS, McLaren put out a press release that they had come to multi-year agreement to keep Felix Rosenqvist with the organization. However, it didn’t specify which series. With a start up Formula E team for 2023, most indications were that Rosenqvist would go there.

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.”

It was then that Rosenqvist opened the door to me in a one-on-one conversation that he’d like to stay in INDYCAR.

“We always want more, right,” he told me on what he needs to do more of to stay here. “I don’t necessarily know what the team thinks but I know from a personal side I would want to win. I mean I’ve won races before, I’ve been on the podium multiple times but we haven’t had either of those this year. It would be unfair to say this is my best year ever because I don’t think that it is. I want to make it into my best year and I think that would probably certify.”

But in what he’s showing, yes he hasn’t won and yes he doesn’t have a podium, but he’s also getting closer and closer. The times he’s not had a top 10 or when he’s been in the top 10 and not finished further, a lot of times it’s come down to luck or strategy. Does he feel this is the best he’s driven so far in his brief INDYCAR career?

“Right now I’m driving the best I’ve done in INDYCAR for sure,” he told me. “But again, we want more. As a team we want more. As a driver I want more. We want to move up from top 10’s to a consistent top 5. We all know that we can’t do that every weekend. It’s already a good achievement and some times you have to score the big points as well and I think that’s kind of our next objective.”

What we didn’t know then is, there was wording in this contract that Rosenqvist could seek another ride on Oct. 1.

July 4

It was this moment to which multiple reports state that McLaren Racing on the F1 side agreed to a contract with Oscar Piastri. It wasn’t known outside of those walls that this deal had been made, but this moment and the one prior is what honestly solidified today’s announcements.

This deal was to make him either a reserve driver for McLaren in 2023 or elevate him to replace Daniel Ricciardo if his performance doesn’t improve.

July 10-11

Colton Herta tests F1 car for McLaren, reports come out on July 12 that it went really well

Alex Palou celebrates his win in Monterey on Sunday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

July 12

Back in May, Chip Ganassi Racing got word Palou wasn’t happy and that he was talking with other teams. In the meantime, Ganassi found language in their contract with Palou that they had the rights to retain him for 2023. On the afternoon of July 12, Ganassi announced that they had exercised their option to keep Palou for 2023.

A few hours later, Palou took to his social media and said that the quote in the press release wasn’t his words and that not only would he not be returning to Chip Ganassi Racing, he would be going to McLaren instead.

That was a bombshell.

July 13

Daniel Ricciardo put out a video on his social media channels that he’s exercising his option to stay with McLaren in his F1 ride for 2023. We didn’t know about the Piastri signing at this point so this move by Ricciardo was in wake of the Palou announcement.

July 17

Rosenqvist finishes on the Toronto podium and used this moment to make his case that he wants to stay here in INDYCAR.

“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.”

July 25

Documents reveal that Ganassi has filed a lawsuit against current driver Alex Palou.

July 28

Palou states that his full intentions are to drive for McLaren in 2023. He doesn’t waver when asked when he’ll be in 2023 – “McLaren.”

Also on this day, Sebastian Vettel announces his retirement.

Aug. 2

Alpine announces that they’ll move Piastri up to an F1 seat to replace Alonso. Like the Palou situation, hours later Piastri says he won’t be moving up to Alpine’s open seat.

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

Aug. 5

Rosenqvist further admits that he’s not wanting to leave INDYCAR but says the only way he stays is all dependent on Palou.

“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.”

Aug. 23

Rene Rast signs with McLaren on Formula E side, could this save Rosenqvist’s job?

Aug. 24

Ricciardo announces that he and McLaren have mutually decided to split at seasons end paving a path for Piastri or Palou.

Sept. 2

Piastri confirmed to move to McLaren on Formula 1 side.

Summer Months-Present

While all this was occurring, it’s not like Palou or Rosenqvist’s results were suffering. In fact, they were thriving with all this circus surrounding them.

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. Palou had 7 including a win in the season finale.

Both drivers admitted this drama surrounding these situations affected performance. On the Palou side, he was cut off on a lot of data. Imagine if he had all the full resources.

It showed to their bosses that maybe it was best to keep both parties in the place they’re in now.

I think for Brown, he hired too many drivers for 1 open seat and Piastri was always the guy he wanted. Palou was the backup plan. Rosenqvist was Palou’s backup plan here. When Rosenqvist stepped up in the final half of the season, it showed Brown that maybe his best option was right in front of his face all along.

For Palou’s sake, that F1 dream was now gone. McLaren has both F1 drivers under the age of 23. They’re set for the future. Plus with the Sept. 30 deadline looming for Rosenqvist and McLaren, if Zak Brown didn’t act now, he faced a possibility of not only losing Rosenqvist, but the court case to Palou as well.

Word was that Ganassi was $10-million from Brown to buyout Palou. After spending upwards of $15-million on buying out Ricciardo, paying a bunch of money on bringing over Piastri as well as signing O’Ward, Rossi, Rosenqvist and Rast this season alone, paying another $10-million wasn’t wise when he had a driver right here that he was already paying.

It made sense to keep it all status quo because the odds of the court case dragging into October were likely. Without an F1 seat available for Palou anymore and having a driver not wanting to be in the INDYCAR seat and another driver not wanting to be in Formula E wasn’t wise.

Which leads us to this all being a whole lot of nothing in the end.

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