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Our take on McLaren's baffling driver shock

by Jack Benyon
3 min read

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McLaren has dropped Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire from its IndyCar line-up days before this weekend’s Laguna Seca race.

He’ll be replaced by Indy NXT racer Nolan Siegel, who McLaren has committed to with a long-term deal - saying it rates him so highly that not getting him straight in the car risked losing him to rivals.

It continues an incredible saga with this car that began with Alex Palou backing out of his deal to leave Ganassi for McLaren and also included his replacement David Malukas being dropped while still recovering from a wrist injury and having never actually raced for Arrow McLaren.

Our IndyCar correspondent Jack Benyon gives his take on the latest shock McLaren decision:

You have to respect 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner-turned McLaren IndyCar team sporting director Tony Kanaan.

“You’ve got to trust me on this,” he said of his call to put Nolan Siegel in the car at the expense of Theo Pourchaire, “I’ll put my job on the line” .

Absolutely nothing about Siegel’s career says he should be in that seat over Pourchaire.

Nolan Siegel

That’s not to be mean to Siegel, he’s a lovely person in my experience and showed his mental toughness over the Indy 500 weekend, but his resume right now isn’t in the same zip code as Pourchaire's.

It is important to consider that Siegel hasn’t always focused on championships, and has sometimes prioritised mixed schedules in different series, but Pourchaire is the reigning Formula 2 champion who has impressed massively since coming to IndyCar.

Team principal Gavin Ward said McLaren was looking to “set ourselves up for long-term competitiveness”. Pourchaire is just 15 months older than Siegel!

I just can’t understand this, given that Siegel hasn’t even been in McLaren’s car yet, and he has somehow done enough to prove to the team that he’s a better long-term option.

Ward very cleverly sidestepped a question about whether Siegel brought sponsorship or budget by not ruling that out. Instead saying he had “earned his way”, so perhaps that tells part of the story. Ward didn't just answer the question with “no”.

However you interpret this, it’s a spectacular dismissal of a driver who has won arguably the most prestigious championship a young driver can win and has been in and around Formula 1 teams since he was 16, to be replaced with a driver who finished third in Indy NXT last year and won the LMP2 class at the Le Mans 24 Hours. which came after McLaren made its decision.

Siegel was brilliant at Thermal on his IndyCar debut with Dale Coyne Racing, 20th at Long Beach, 23rd at Road America for Juncos Hollinger and didn't qualify for the Indy 500. And there he crashed in practice, which had his team on the backfoot. Perhaps the car was so bad it was inevitable he would crash, but he still crashed and it played a part in being bumped.

I hope Siegel proves Kanaan was right all along, but judging the facts, it’s really tough to understand this, and horrible for Pourchaire who started Laguna Seca race week expecting to…race.

A lot of eyes will be on Siegel because of how this has been done. He's mentally capable of handling that, but the question mark is whether he can become a quick and well-rounded driver better than Pourchaire.

One of the biggest blows from not landing Palou was that McLaren would have to race against him every week. I’d certainly be happy in making the statement that if any of McLaren’s rivals get their hands on Pourchaire, he immediately makes any of them a stronger proposition.

So not only had it better be right about Siegel's credentials, it had better hope Pourchaire heads to another continent and doesn't team up with an IndyCar rival…

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