until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


McLaren drops Pourchaire in latest driver bombshell

by Jack Benyon, Matt Beer
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

In a spectacular move, Arrow McLaren has dropped reigning Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire - who it announced for the rest of the season only in May - from its IndyCar team in favour of Indy NXT driver Nolan Siegel, who takes over in a multi-year deal including next season.

Pourchaire was informed of the decision by the team’s special advisor Tony Kanaan on Tuesday just hours before it was announced. Yesterday Pourchaire had been posting on social media about how excited he was to be racing at Laguna Seca this weekend - which will now be Siegel’s McLaren debut instead.

It completes a bamboozling chain of events that includes legal cases, a broken wrist and now a total driver U-turn in McLaren's revolving door.

McLaren’s stance is that because Siegel is one of the “hottest prospects on the up and coming side of IndyCar and the North American racing scene”, according to team principal Gavin Ward, it was logical “to fast forward and get him in the car as soon as possible” once it had decided to sign him for 2025 and beyond.

Why has this seat been a merry-go-around?

McLaren had signed Alex Palou and was hoping to install him for 2024, before Palou elected to stay with Ganassi, leading to McLaren suing Palou in a case which is ongoing in a UK court.

Kanaan referenced Palou’s role in triggering the saga when discussing Siegel’s arrival with the media on Tuesday.

“It started back in last year with that driver that decided not to come over and breached his contract,” he said. “It’s been quite a six months for me. I did not sign up to have to choose four drivers.”

With Felix Rosenqvist - who Palou was set to replace - leaving the team, McLaren signed David Malukas for the #6 car but he fractured his wrist in a pre-season mountain biking shunt and missed the opening races. Just after the Barber Motorsports Park race at the end of April, McLaren announced it was releasing the still-recovering Malukas from his contract.

Pourchaire and former Juncos racer Callum Ilott had shared stand-in duties in Malukas’ absence, and McLaren then announced Pourchaire for what it said was the rest of the season.

“Frankly the disruption we’ve had off one little accident on a mountain bike is pretty phenomenal and I’m looking forward to moving past that,” said Ward.

At the Indianapolis 500 last month, Zak Brown had said he was happy with his drivers, while adding it had not just been a straight fight between Pourchaire and Ilott.

Who is Nolan Siegel?

Siegel, 19, will be the youngest driver on the grid at Laguna Seca.

He’s yet to win a championship in his junior career but has often mixed and matched sportscars and single-seaters to get varied experience in factors like pitstops and fuel saving which you don’t get in junior open-wheel series.

He was third in Indy NXT last year and probably would have finished higher without some serious misfortune.

This plan for this season was a NXT title bid and a partial IndyCar programme with Dale Coyne Racing.

Siegel is well-liked and highly-rated by almost anyone that works with him. Brown has had rave reviews about him from various personnel of the United Autosport sportscar team he is a co-owner of, and for which Siegel won the LMP2 class at the Le Mans 24 Hours last weekend.

Siegel impressed in the Thermal non-championship race (below) and then failed to qualify for the Indy 500 after a practice shunt curtailed an already difficult build-up in an uncompetitive Coyne car. Kanaan - who had “eyes on him” on McLaren’s behalf already - spent the day advising Siegel and was impressed.

“You see someone and say ‘that person has something there’. On that Sunday, working with him all day under pressure, there was something there,” he explained.

The key change that convinced McLaren to pounce was when Siegel accepted a last-gasp approach to step in for Agustin Canapino at Juncos Hollinger at Road America last weekend. Canapino was in the middle of a social media storm after some fans of his and the JHR team had issued death threats to Pourchaire online following a Detroit collision.

Siegel initially planned to race in both IndyCar and Indy NXT that weekend before deciding to skip NXT, which left him fourth in the feeder series standings, 79 points behind leader Jacob Abel.

“At the time we put Theo in the car, Nolan was committed to his Indy NXT season so with the clashes there and with his limited programme with Coyne, a full season didn’t look like it was on the cards,” said Ward.

“With the developments and [Siegel] making the choice to step away from NXT at Road America, that brought this forward in a hurry.”

Ward and Kanaan were both adamant that they felt they couldn’t afford to risk another team getting Siegel tied down for the long time first, so had to make this move now.

“If we didn’t jump, somebody else would,” was how Kanaan put it.

And Ward is certain this will be McLaren’s last driver change in that car.

“Although this is yet another change, the real goal with this change is seeking the stability that the team needs,” he insisted.

“Us being able to stop the merry-go-round at this point is the first opportunity we’ve had in a while to be proactive rather than reactive in how we go about filling the seat.

“This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction. This has been an ongoing strategic thing.”

What now for Pourchaire?

Inevitably this will be a tough blow for a driver who missed out on a Formula 1 seat after winning F2, then had a difficult start to his planned 2024 Super Formula campaign in Japan before abandoning that for the IndyCar chance.

Now, despite a strong beginning to his IndyCar career, he faces time on the sidelines again.

“Nobody takes that news well,” Kanaan admitted of his call to Pourchaire.

“I explained it to him and gave him a few examples of what I’ve been through.

“The first question you ask yourself is ‘what did I do? Did I do anything wrong?’. He didn’t do anything wrong. It was just the situation. It was just a call that we had to make.

“It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t because of his performance. I think he’s done whatever he could do. He wasn’t happy but he understood.”

Both said McLaren would help Pourchaire look for other opportunities, and didn’t rule him out of consideration for its third seat for 2025 alongside Pato O’Ward and Siegel, with Alexander Rossi’s future unclear, although Rossi is expected to retain that seat according to The Race's sources.

“This has got nothing to do with how he was driving or working with the team,” Ward added of Pourchaire.

“We all really like Theo and his attitude coming into the team.

“But we need to set ourselves up for long-term competitiveness.”

Kanaan in particular acknowledged that this decision may well be unpopular, especially given the controversy over Malukas losing his seat too. Malukas returns to the grid at Laguna this weekend with new employer Meyer Shank Racing.

“Some people will agree, some people will disagree,” said Kanaan of the Siegel move.

“We’ll take the heat. But for me it’s the best decision. I believe I’m making the right call with the team. I weigh in quite a bit.

“We have to just move on, we’re here trying to win races. Once we win a race, nobody’s going to remember.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks