IndyCar: McLaren could be facing an intriguing ‘problem’

Felix Rosenqvist, McLaren, IndyCar (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Felix Rosenqvist, McLaren, IndyCar (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

Arrow McLaren enter the 2023 IndyCar season knowing that they will probably have a free agency problem on their hands, but it’s a good problem to have.

Arrow McLaren, formerly known as Arrow McLaren SP, are set to enter the 2023 IndyCar season with a slightly new look compared to previous years.

After running two full-time entries in each of their first three seasons in the sport, they have expanded to three cars this year.

Pato O’Ward is set for his fourth season behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet, while Felix Rosenqvist is back for year number three with the team. However, he will no longer be driving the No. 7 Chevrolet.

The No. 6 hasn’t been used full-time in IndyCar since Robert Wickens drove the No. 6 Honda for the team, then known as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, back in 2018.

Rosenqvist is set to drive the No. 6 Chevrolet this year, as former Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi, who was ironically linked to McLaren back in 2019, has joined the organization  and is set to pilot the No. 7 entry.

O’Ward is expected to contend for the championship, while Rossi, arguably the biggest offseason addition for any team on the grid, is expected to rejuvenate his career after an underwhelming final three seasons with Michael Andretti’s team which saw him win just one race.

But out of all of Arrow McLaren’s three drivers, all eyes will be on Rosenqvist, who is once again driving for his IndyCar career.

Back in mid-July, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that they had picked up an option in Alex Palou’s contract to keep him behind the wheel of the No. 10 Honda in 2023.

Shortly thereafter, McLaren announced that they had signed the 2021 champion for 2023, and Palou’s ensuing statement indicated that he indeed planned to compete for McLaren, not Chip Ganassi Racing.

One massive silly season fiasco/legal battle later, Palou is instead back with Chip Ganassi Racing for a third year in 2023, though he is also now with McLaren as a part of their Formula 1 testing program.

All signs point to Palou making the full move to McLaren in 2024, and when it once looked like Palou was going to be joining the team in 2023, Rosenqvist was seen as being as good as gone.

Rookie Oscar Piastri isn’t going anywhere anytime soon after landing with the Woking-based team after his own silly season fiasco, so barring Lando Norris making a surprise move to Red Bull, Ferrari, or Mercedes, which doesn’t seem feasible considering the fact that his contract runs through 2025, Formula 1 simply isn’t an option for Palou in 2024.

That would mean that Palou is in line for a seat with Arrow McLaren SP. But what happens if Rosenqvist, who finished just one position behind O’Ward in last year’s standings, competes for a championship and/or wins races this year? Then things get interesting. You can’t just let a driver like that walk, can you?

For Zak Brown’s team, it’s a good problem to have, but it’s a headache that they’d probably like to avoid.

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Is expanding to four cars even feasible, doubling the team’s car count in an 18-month span? Could Palou end up remaining with Chip Ganassi Racing again in 2024? Where will Rosenqvist end up if he does indeed get replaced? While it probably won’t regenerate the chaos of a year ago, it’s an early free agency/silly season to keep an eye on as the 2023 season gets rolling.