until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


‘It’s just sad’ – Palou on McLaren contract saga

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

In his first media appearance since a new legal battle ignited, IndyCar points leader Alex Palou called the situation “sad” and said he “would have liked to have done things differently”.

Palou announced he was leaving his current employer Chip Ganassi for 2023 in July last year, with sights on driving for McLaren, before a legal case between Palou and Ganassi was settled out of court and Palou stayed with Ganassi alongside McLaren Formula 1 commitments.

He was expected to finally complete the switch to McLaren next year. But it emerged earlier this month via a letter from McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown to his own team that Palou had elected not to join McLaren after all, despite Brown claiming Palou had already made a contractual commitment for 2024.

That letter also claimed Palou had been paid money towards that 2024 deal already and coupled with the millions the team claims to have spent in developing him in F1 machinery, it has elected to sue Palou and his racing entity for damages.

Palou was laid-back, relaxed even, joking with reporters in his first proper public media appearance since, despite the severity of the situation he finds himself in.

When asked the first question about how he had seemingly changed his mind about his racing destination for next year, he replied: “I think someday I’ll write a story, and maybe a book, so everybody knows what was going on since ’22 and ’23, each month. But yeah, for now, I’m not gonna give a lot of information.”

He added: “Believe it or not, I know quite a lot of law now. I had classes for a year now!”

Alex Palou Gallagher Grand Prix By Amber Pietz Ref Image Without Watermark M90696

He more or less restated the book answer when asked if he could confirm that he had a signed contract with McLaren next year, and if he had asked for an advance on his salary for 2024, too.

One thing is for certain in all of this. That book would be an instant bestseller and would probably be mistakenly placed in the ‘fiction’ section in your local bookshop.

Not once did Palou say “no comment”, a testament to how open he has tried to be with media in the past 15 months over various difficult subjects most drivers would shy away from.

But, mentions of a tell-all aside, he did hint at the possibility he could be more open further down the line, as some of his answers were understandably short or unilluminating.

Asked about why he’d changed his mind on his future, he replied, “I think maybe after the season, I can sit down and explain a lot more, I don’t think it would help anybody or anyone to start now.”

The fact that Palou’s 2022 court case happened in the States and the latest is based in the UK could be significant in how this situation plays out. Obviously Palou is not handling the case himself but it will certainly complicate things for his lawyers and him.

“I cannot really tell because I don’t really know the differences on here and there and whatever,” he said.

“So that’s why the lawyers are telling me stuff about how it’s going on and what they think – so that’s good, it’s in their hands.

“I’m just trying to be a bit more away from all that to last year and trying to really go for races and focusing on the racing. I know everything [that] is going on and I’m not taking that apart but there’s also nothing, [not] a lot more than I can do there, let’s say.

“So I can only lose concentration on the races and all that stuff.”

Oh yes, racing! That’s something that also happens in Palou’s life, and it’s happening this weekend at Gateway.

Alex Palou Gallagher Grand Prix By Joe Skibinski Ref Image Without Watermark M90581

Short ovals have been Palou’s biggest area to work on since his rapid ascension to one of IndyCar’s top stars. But if he can extend his championship lead by just eight points this weekend, he’ll be the first driver to wrap up the IndyCar title two races early since Dan Wheldon in 2005.

“I would prefer to have a really easy year,” Palou said when asked about racing with this hanging over his head, something he admitted impacted his performance in 2022.

“Hopefully that will come next year, and all my life afterwards.

“But it’s not been that way in ’22 and ’23, I would say obviously, it’s not as big as it was last year, just because last year, it was from zero to, like, a big drama.

“Now, it’s been like we’re just carrying what we had last year until now.

“So it’s a little bit easier just because I have a bit more experience. I’m not saying it’s just easy. And yeah, the way the championship is, I think that makes it a bit less challenging to carry.”

Still, when it comes to some big numbers being thrown around in terms of money, it has to be a worry for anyone, especially someone like Palou who hasn’t been blessed with enormous wealth either from birth or in his racing career through huge sponsorship deals.

So what does he think of the potential for a lawsuit that could be claiming for $20-$30 million?

“Honestly, I don’t really understand,” he said.

“I can ask you for as much as I want – I can ask you 400 million because you asked me a tough question. So yeah, honestly, it might be or might not be concerning for the lawyers. So I don’t really know.”

We might not have confirmation from Palou that he had a McLaren contract – and things get sticky when you consider his Ganassi deal had an exclusivity clause with that team lasting to September 1, 2023 – but Brown has claimed it existed and so have others.

That means that underneath everything that’s happening now, we know Palou wanted to join McLaren at one stage because that’s where he said he wanted to go last year, and a big part of that was Formula 1 opportunities.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Practice Day Austin, Usa

On whether it was a disappointment because this court battle could potentially mean Palou doesn’t get any more F1 time with McLaren, he said: “Well, not [really]. I think they gave me a lot of chances, last year, I did it in COTA and they also gave me some chances this year, doing a testing in Budapest.

“So yeah, I’m not like, disappointed personally because I couldn’t get another.”

McLaren is yet to confirm if it will use Palou in any FP1s – which was expected before this lawsuit kicked off – or as its reserve driver once the IndyCar season is finished, as had been planned officially.

We’ve saved arguably the most interesting part of the interview for last.

Palou has been quiet in the run-up to this interview so all we’ve had is Brown’s letter to his team, a short statement, Chip Ganassi responding with his own statement accusing McLaren of interference with Palou and, finally, McLaren initiating legal proceedings.

I’d written that I was surprised that Ganassi had criticised McLaren in such a way, and that while I understood why it wouldn’t come out and criticise Palou because it wants to keep him, it was still disappointing to see McLaren being bashed without so much as a mention for the driver who had caused the whole thing.

Still, as I wrote then and can again, Palou is one of the nicest people to talk to in the paddock, which came across again here.

It was good to hear him say that he wasn’t happy with how this situation played out, and had regrets. After all, he’s left two teams – all of their staff and personnel too – in limbo for a year as well.

“I would say it’s just sad,” Palou said when asked about how he would explain having to go through a second case like this in two years.

“I would have liked to have done things differently. But it’s not been that way.

“And I’m just sad the way it’s worked out.

“But yeah, I cannot really change it and just change everything and colour it and make it a little more nice. It’s not that way.”

Now Palou really does have to turn his attention to the championship. While last year he hadn’t won at the time the original news broke, and he didn’t feel like a genuine title contender, this year he is 101 points clear of team-mate Scott Dixon with three races to go, two of which he has won in the last two years ( Portland in 2021 and Laguna Seca last year).

He bagged a top-10 at Gateway last year. Another top-10 now would go a long way to securing his second IndyCar title in three years.

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