until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


What's different about McLaren's latest IndyCar driver split

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Another week, another McLaren IndyCar driver change.

Only this one is in a different vein to the trail of discarded young drivers on the #6 car. This is an ex-Formula 1 driver and Indianapolis 500 winner making his own decision to head for the team’s exit door after this season at the age of 32.

After Alexander Rossi returned from an ultimately frustrating career in Europe following five F1 starts for Manor in the 2015 season, his life changed forever when he switched to IndyCar and won the 2016 Indy 500 at the first time of asking, kickstarting a new journey that has led to him driving for two of the biggest teams in the series and being coveted by the others.

He’s just recently hit a purple patch in form for McLaren - scoring his best road course qualifying result of the season and his first McLaren podium at Laguna Seca last time out - but ultimately none of that mattered because his exit is a “business” decision, not performance-based.

“It was really all business, is how it came down to it,” Rossi tells The Race.

“So you can interpret that however you want.

Alexander Rossi

“Whether that's length of deal, whether that's financial, it was something where we were all trying to find some common ground and meet in the middle and it was just one of those things where it didn't happen.

“Everyone has their own kind of agenda that they're trying to meet and appease, whether it's themselves or other people. They have responsibilities too. And this was just one of those things that didn't work out.

“Everyone needs to realise that this isn't a negative thing. It's something that is just a result of the sport/business that we're in sometimes.”

In the past, McLaren has offered a deal whereby the first year is confirmed but the second year or any consequent year is an option on the team side.

It’s clear Rossi was ultimately not willing to go past a certain point and neither was McLaren - whether it was financial or contractual - forcing the split in which Christian Lundgaard will take over the #7 car for the future.

What next for Rossi?

Christian Lundgaard Rahal Letterman Lanigan IndyCar 2024

It’s interesting because Rossi appears very positive about his future in IndyCar but from our vantage point there doesn’t appear to be a lot of options for anyone, not just Rossi.

Penske appears set with its drivers. Ganassi is looking to downsize rather than maintain or expand from its five cars. Andretti has just shrunk to three and currently wants to stay there. McLaren is obviously now off the table.

That leaves only one true race-winning outfit with seats left on the grid and that’s the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team Lundgaard is leaving for McLaren.

It seems like the obvious choice for Rossi in that it’s the best seat still available, and for Rahal who would no doubt love to have an Indy 500 winner back in its line-up.

It’s been hit and miss on road and street circuits though and woeful on ovals at times, so it’s hard to see a seat there being a big win for Rossi.

Most of the other options look like a significant step down for Rossi, who listed his “unfinished business” in IndyCar to The Race.

“Everything. It's not one thing,” he says.

“It's getting back into the ability to fight for the championship, like in 2018, 2019.

“Obviously, being able to drink milk [for winning the Indy 500] again and realise that from a completely different perspective and to just keep being the driver and have the result that I know I'm capable of.

“That's the motivating factor.”

Rahal appears the only team left where the results Rossi wants would be remotely realistic, unless Rossi knows something about another team and any potential improvements it might be making for next year.

Newcomer Prema is not believed to be an option. Reuniting with old McLaren team-mate Felix Rosenqvist at Shank could be but David Malukas has the potential to shine and stay there.

And if better seats do emerge, there are a host of young drivers that might take a lower salary or shorter contract than Rossi thus making them a more attractive proposition. Rahal itself has Juri Vips (pictured below) under contract and he was very impressive last year in two sub outings.

Juri Vips

So short of one of the bigger teams finding a disruptive way to shuffle and crowbar Rossi in, his optimism appears hard to comprehend.

That being said, Rossi’s father Pieter has managed his career for a long time and manages other drivers now too. He’ll have a good handle on what’s going on and what’s possible.

“There's no plans to leave IndyCar,” said Alexander.

“There's a lot that I have left that I want to do here. So this next decision is just about what's going to give me the best opportunity to go out there and accomplish that.”

Given his recent form, he deserves another chance to continue his recent form and the journey he is on learning from racing for another team and manufacturer.

Rossi’s odd IndyCar career

Alexander Rossi IndyCar 2019

Rossi is an enigma in terms of tracking his career. By 2019 - in his third year in IndyCar - he had notched up seven wins, become one of the series’ hottest properties and triggered a silly season war for his future which reportedly included Penske.

He stayed with Andretti - but that coincided with the aeroscreen device coming in for 2020 and changing how the current car drives - and Rossi added only one more win, in 2022, and that attracted a penalty because of a water-bottle-related weight limit infraction.

McLaren followed in 2023, and he scored his first podium for the team last time out at Laguna Seca.

Asked to reflect on the decisions he’s made in the driver market, Rossi says: “You can always look back on things and things that got away and things that you could have done differently, but ultimately, that's not the way that life works and you have to just enjoy the opportunities that you have.”

Alexander Rossi McLaren Laguna Seca IndyCar 2024

He says - even after deciding to leave McLaren - that there’s no regrets he made the switch to it for 2023.

A big part of that - at least reflecting now - is that he learned how ingrained some of his behaviour and knowledge was in racing for one team and one engine manufacturer for seven years.

“I knew only one way of going IndyCar racing for a long period of time,” he adds. “I had only ever worked with one engine manufacturer like there was a lot of things that I thought were IndyCar specific that in reality were - I'm driving a Honda specific, right?

“So I learned a massive amount from the people that I've got to work with. That's the number one positive to take away from that.”

Rossi says heading into the last race weekend at Laguna Seca he knew this could be the way his future was going, and it wasn’t a surprise that the news came out when it did.

If anything, he reckons it could be a good thing.

“We still have a lot that we can accomplish this year,” he adds.

“And so, if anything, it's good that this distraction is kind of out of the way and we can all just go focus on what we believe we're capable of and just continue to execute on race weekends.

“I'm excited about that opportunity and things that are to come down the road.”

Rossi immediately becomes the highest-profile and most interesting driver on the market in IndyCar for 2025 now. This could be a very interesting storyline indeed. Even if, right now, it’s hard to imagine he’ll get what he’s looking for.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks