The hot seat was on Felix Rosenqvist’s behind for the 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series season. Largely, he performed and did his job to ensure that he was back with Arrow McLaren for the 2023 season. In fact, one could argue that Rosenqvist saved Zak Brown a lot of money in the process.
See, the path is clear – Alex Palou is eventually going to end up with McLaren. More than likely, it’s going to come in 2024 now. The initial plan was for now and if that ended up happening, then Rosenqvist isn’t first up in the 2023 media day activities this week.
Alexander Rossi was joining McLaren on the INDYCAR side this season. Pato O’Ward restructured a deal to keep him in place. NTT Data comes onboard as a new sponsor. NTT Data was with Chip Ganassi Racing the last several years as a primary sponsor on Palou’s car.
You can see where this is going.
Palou was set to replace Rosenqvist with McLaren in 2023. However, Ganassi wasn’t going to just lay over and allow this to happen and in the meantime, McLaren solidified their F1 future with a pair of drivers barely old enough to drink alcoholic beverages.
Palou and Rosenqvist’s futures were now at the mercy of the courts. Rosenqvist came to a short-term agreement with McLaren to stay on board for the future, but that had a clause that he could leave them by the end of September if an INDYCAR seat was found for him.
Rosenqvist had no desire to go to Formula E. He’s been there done that. He wants to stay here. He has unfinished business in INDYCAR. So, in order to make his case to remain, he had to improve his stats. Make it hard for McLaren to say “bye bye.”
Prior to this saga, you could almost break his brief tenure with Arrow McLaren into two parts. Prior to the summer break of 2021 and past.
0 top 12 starts. 0 top 10 finishes. 14 laps led in 8 races. Not good numbers for this rising team and ones that get your contract not to be renewed.
16 top 10 starts, 14 top 10 finishes in 24 races.
The pressure was turned on and amid all the uncertainty, Rosenqvist delivered. It allowed Brown to settle and just wait for Palou and have a formidable front runner keeping that seat warm instead.
“I think it went pretty well, to be honest,” Rosenqvist said on how he responded to last year’s uncertainty and adversity in his career. “I think I handled it probably as good as I could. That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year.”
Now, he heads into the 2023 season with a ton of momentum to make a serious run at a championship.
“I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year,” Rosenqvist continued. “I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.
“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example.
“I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can going into the season.”
However, his future was only solidified for just this season. All signs point to Palou coming over in 2024. I mean Rosenqvist’s number even changed from 7 to 6 because you can tell the plan all along was Rossi in the 7, O’Ward staying in the 5 and Palou and NTT Data in the 6. Rosenqvist is now in the 6.
Unfortunately, while performing at that high level in 2022, Rosenqvist did so under turbulent circumstances. Won’t that same circumstances creep back up again this year?
He admitted that to be a problem last season.
“Yeah, I think it’s mainly distracting for the team, for the engineers, mechanics. They’re all asking questions,” he said in Nashville last August. “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.”
What about now entering this season with that same circumstance?
“I mean, first of all, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s a long time until next year,” he noted on Tuesday morning.
“As I said, I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team, not only in Arrow McLaren but my 6 car I think is going to be strong this year. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team to go and perform.
“I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”
However, how far can he truly go in 2023 without a home solidified for 2024 yet?
“It’s great to have some foundation in the team now at this point,” Rosenqvist said. “Feeling really at home. Obviously, this will be the longest I’ve been with a team in quite a while, probably since like 2014 when I did Formula 3.
“To be with the same team for a third year is huge for me, with consistency, basically the same group as previous years, but some changes here and there. I have a new engineer this year in Chris Lawrence who is a good friend of mine. He’s been on the car for many years on what used to be the 7 car, now it’s the 6 car crew.
“Yeah, I think what you look to improve is all the small details. It’s so tight. As I said, we had some standouts last year. I think we had some low points, as well. I think that’s what we’ve been targeting, how can we get rid of the lows and improve the highs a little bit more
“Obviously in INDYCAR now it’s very tight, very small differences that make you go from, let’s say, P10 to P1. It’s all within a couple of hundredths or tenths.
“Yeah, good to keep building on that foundation we laid. We ended the season on a very good note last year in Laguna. Yeah, just trying to continue where we left off really.”