Alex Palou’s decision not to honour his contract to join McLaren next year is no reflection on the team, its CEO Zak Brown believes.
The dispute between the two was originally resolved in a settlement which saw Palou remain at Ganassi’s IndyCar team this season. He also made appearances in Formula 1 for McLaren, which included a run in first practice at the United States Grand Prix last year.
Palou was expected to join McLaren in IndyCar next season and Brown said it had been “very disappointing” to learn of his change of mind.
“We had a very good relationship,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “He hasn’t personally communicated with me about it which is rather disappointing given all that we have done for him and the opportunities that we provided.”
The driver has not indicated any reason for his decision. He has won four races for Ganassi this year and is on course to win the IndyCar championship for a second time. He could clinch the title this weekend.
“I don’t think his decision has anything to do with McLaren per se,” said Brown. “Our relationship was very strong.
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“So I’m very disappointed on how it’s been handled on a personal level. I think our relationships with our drivers is something that McLaren take very seriously and I think we do a good job of creating a family environment for our drivers. So to be let down, especially in that manner, is pretty, pretty disappointing.”
One theory which has been advanced for Palou’s decision is that Oscar Piastri’s successful debut season for McLaren this year led the IndyCar driver to conclude there won’t be an opportunity for him to race for their F1 team in the foreseeable future. Brown said he has “no idea what’s going through his mind because I’ve not spoken with him.”
“But things move fast in Formula 1,” he added. “Drivers can break their wrists in an instant. So I think if you want to do Formula 1, you need to kind of hang around the hoop and see what opportunities provide.
“Nyck de Vries wasn’t on anyone’s radar, goes and does one race, next thing you know, he has a Formula 1 seat. So I don’t know what’s in his mind, but hanging around the hoop and being in a Formula 1 environment to me seems to give you the best opportunity to become a Formula 1 driver in whatever team that may be.”
Brown suspects Palou’s decision means he may never be able to show what he can do in F1. “Alex is obviously a very talented driver. We’ve had him in our car a handful [of times]. I think whether it’s Alex, or any other driver, to be a Formula 1 driver you need to clearly have the pace but you also have to have the mental ability if you like.
“I think in Formula 1 there’s so much you have to do as a driver to be a complete racing driver. So, he certainly has demonstrated in IndyCar and his time with us that he is a complete racing driver but I’m not sure we’ll ever find out.”
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Palou’s departure leaves McLaren with a vacancy to fill as its reserve driver. Although it has given testing opportunities to his IndyCar rivals Pato O’Ward – who also drives for their IndyCar team – and Colton Herta, neither are eligible to race in F1 under the FIA’s superlicence points system. Brown said it is unlikely the pair will become eligible based on their results in IndyCar, for which the FIA awards fewer points than in Formula 2 or even Formula 3.
“Colton and Pato, neither have their superlicence at the moment and with the way the current system works, their chances of getting a super licence are unfortunately going backwards because of the way the system works and where they are right now currently in IndyCar,” said Brown.
“Pato is someone that will be in the car later in the year in our TPC [testing of previous cars] and has done a great job for us, so Pato is certainly someone that’s a focus. That being said, we are talking about reserve drivers and testing because what’s most important for us is our current driver line-up of which both drivers are doing an excellent job.”
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