IndyCar: Could McLaren swipe another potential Ganassi driver?

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, Indy 500, IndyCar (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Alex Palou is set to leave Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2022 IndyCar season. But could McLaren swipe another potential Chip Ganassi Racing driver as well?

IndyCar silly season reached a whole new level earlier this week after Chip Ganassi Racing announced that they had picked up the option in Alex Palou’s contract to keep him behind the wheel of the #10 Honda in 2023.

Shortly thereafter, Palou denied the team release that he would be back for a third season with the team next year, and he accused the organization of attaching his name to a fake quote.

Then McLaren announced that they had signed Palou for the 2023 season, only for Chip Ganassi Racing to respond by saying that Palou remains under contract with their organization for 2023.

Some believe that Chip Ganassi Racing insisted that Palou remains tied to the team for next year to force an expensive buyout before he ultimately departs for McLaren, a move that seems inevitable. At this stage, it’s impossible to imagine Palou in the #10 Honda next year.

But there is another interesting theory.

What many noticed upon McLaren’s announcement that Palou had joined the team for 2023 was actually something which wasn’t said: there was no mention of the series in which Palou is to drive for the team. And above all, there was no specific mention of Arrow McLaren SP, the official name of the organization’s IndyCar team.

To say that this is strategic would be an understatement.

One suggestion which has been floated is that Palou’s contract with Chip Ganassi Racing, which supposedly contained not only a team option for 2023 but for 2024 as well, was to have prevented him from speaking to rival IndyCar teams about other rides.

McLaren, however, is not just an IndyCar team. The Woking-based organization fields teams in multiple series, including Formula 1, Formula E (starting next season), and Extreme E.

And the Palou announcement came from McLaren, not from Arrow McLaren SP, so they technically didn’t announce that he is joining their IndyCar team for 2023.

Of course, it’s hard to believe that Palou would make a move — a lateral move, at best — to leave a championship organization just to drive a Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren SP, even if that does end up happening.

With Daniel Ricciardo’s Formula 1 contract with McLaren up after 2023, could the promise of a Formula 1 chance have done the trick? Could a huge salary bump have been a factor? Could it be a combination of the two (or even a combination of more than just those two)?

Regardless of the reason why Palou would want to leave Chip Ganassi Racing, however, Chip Ganassi’s team needs to be careful moving forward, because they could run the risk of losing another driver to McLaren if they aren’t.

If Palou’s contract did indeed forbid him to speak to other IndyCar teams, then Chip Ganassi Racing could technically prevent him, even if he does go to McLaren as expected, from competing for the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team in 2023, couldn’t they?

Here is the exact wording in the McLaren release.

"“Palou will join McLaren following the conclusion of his 2022 INDYCAR season. McLaren Racing will confirm its full driver line-ups across all of its racing series in due course.”"

Again, there is nothing here about Palou joining Arrow McLaren SP.

Preventing a championship-caliber driver from competing for a rival IndyCar team may seem like a good idea on the surface for Chip Ganassi Racing, especially when you consider the fact that they know this driver won’t be competing for their own organization next year.

But even if Chip Ganassi Racing prevent Palou from driving for Arrow McLaren SP next year, Arrow McLaren SP would still have a third seat to fill.

And what’s to stop them from trying to sign Chip Ganassi Racing’s top choice for Palou’s replacement as well?

Rinus VeeKay has been the name mentioned most often regarding potential replacements for Palou, as he doesn’t have a deal to compete with Ed Carpenter Racing beyond the conclusion of the 2022 season. Callum Ilott, who doesn’t have a deal to compete with Juncos Hollinger Racing for 2023, is another possibility.

Chip Ganassi Racing simply need to accept the reality that they will need to replace Palou behind the wheel of the #10 Honda next year.

But if they try to go a step further and prevent Palou from driving for a rival IndyCar team in doing so, Arrow McLaren SP could very well swipe another potential Chip Ganassi Racing driver from right under their noses for their third car, and the Chip Ganassi vs. Zak Brown battle could end up reigniting itself at some point later in the year.

Look at all of the IndyCar drivers — and from different teams — that the McLaren organization has under contract in some way, shape, or form: Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi, Alex Palou, and even Colton Herta.

Do you think for one second that Brown would hesitate to sign another young and promising talent — especially if such a signing means further turmoil for Ganassi?

dark. Next. IndyCar team hilariously deletes tweet

Given the events of this past week, I would sure hope not.