Spanish driver Alex Palou will take part in the first free practice session at the 2022 United States Grand Prix for McLaren F1. Palou will drive Daniel’s car for the 60-minute session in Austin.
Palou, the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, has an impressive motorsport career to date, including four wins and 15 podiums in INDYCAR, and third place in the 2019 Super Formula Championship.
“I’m so excited to be making my F1 weekend debut,” said Palou. “It’s great to be driving in the United States in front of fans that may have seen me race in INDYCAR. Having driven the 2021 McLaren MCL35M in a few tests now, I can’t wait to put the MCL36 through its paces. I look forward to helping the team in their preparation for the 2022 United States Grand Prix.”
Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward will also take part in a free practice session, driving Lando’s car at the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Mexican driver will take the wheel of the MCL36 after a successful season in INDYCAR, adding two wins and two podiums to his notable record in the series of two previous wins, seven podiums and the 2018 Indy Lights championship title.
“I can’t wait to get out on track in Abu Dhabi,” O’Ward said. “I’ve developed as a driver and had a lot of fun testing last year’s car with the team, so it will be a great experience to drive the MCL36. Thank you McLaren F1 for the opportunity.”
This opportunity follows their driver development tests in the MCL35M. These sessions will fulfill the team’s two young driver outings, as mandated in the 2022 Sporting Regulations.
“We’re pleased to give Alex and Pato the opportunity to take part in free practice sessions with McLaren,” Andres Seidl said. “With Alex’s great successes in INDYCAR, it will be useful for the team to get his feedback on the car and for us to continue to evaluate him as a driver.
“Alex and Pato impressed with their recent tests in Barcelona and Austria and we’re excited to offer them the experience in the MCL36. It’s a great chance for them to showcase their skills on Formula 1’s global stage, where the focus will be to help the team prepare for the race weekend and not on ultimate lap times.”
Both drivers were tabbed as recent hires as test drivers and weren’t originally on the list to begin with from what was announced in March. Colton Herta however was which drew the ire of O’Ward because he felt like he had been passed over when the organization knew his ultimate goal was to become an F1 driver. That led to a tense negotiations of a new contract which cooler heads eventually prevailed with O’Ward signing a new agreement this past May that keeps him within the team through 2025 that includes this kind of opportunities that he’s now been given.
For Palou, he wasn’t even on the radar then but when contract talks with Chip Ganassi Racing got tense, Palou thought he had a deal to join McLaren for 2023. However, Ganassi opted in for the 2023 contract to keep Palou in place. While the Spaniard wanted out, Ganassi wasn’t going to let him walk and this went as far as going to the courts. With McLaren and Zak Brown having no leg to stand on and Felix Rosenqvist set to be able to walk on Oct. 1, McLaren had to drop the pursuit of Palou for next year in order to potentially not lose out on both Palou and Rosenqvist.
So, Palou stays in INDYCAR with Ganassi but is allowed to test and drive in these outings for McLaren.