The strength of Chip Ganassi Racing has created a challenging situation for Alex Palou when it comes to his IndyCar future — or lack thereof.
Twelve months ago on Wednesday, 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou made clear that he planned to leave Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2022 season and join McLaren.
The news accompanied Chip Ganassi Racing’s announcement that they had picked up an option in Palou’s contract to keep him behind the wheel of the No. 10 Honda in 2023 — and McLaren’s contradictory announcement that they had signed the Spaniard.
A legal battle ensued, and Palou ended up back with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2023, but while taking on a new role as the reserve driver for the McLaren Formula 1 team.
One of the key details surrounding a full McLaren move for Palou which still hasn’t been revealed is where he would have driven in 2023 had he been able to leave Chip Ganassi Racing.
Would it have been him, not Oscar Piastri, taking over what was Daniel Ricciardo’s Formula 1 seat, or would he have simply joined the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team?
Palou now finds himself without a contract to compete beyond the conclusion of the 2023 season, and his decision has gotten more interesting amid recent success.
Through nine of 17 races on the 2023 IndyCar schedule, he leads the championship standings by 110 points — more than two full race weekends — over six-time champion teammate Scott Dixon.
He has reeled off eight straight top five finishes — and arguably more impressively, eight straight results ahead of the six-time champion — and hasn’t finished lower than eighth place this season. He has won three races in a row and four of the last five.
Does Alex Palou really want to give up a seat in which he can be the IndyCar championship and Indy 500 favorite for the next decade-plus?
Of course, if he has his heart set on Formula 1, then it won’t matter how much success he has with Chip Ganassi Racing. While he can’t legally speak with other teams about a potential 2024 seat until September, has even said that he doesn’t see his performance throughout the rest of the 2023 season affecting where he ends up in 2024.
But you have to think that giving up the No. 10 Honda will be much more difficult amid the run of success that the 26-year-old has been on. Above all, and as simple as it sounds, he is clearly having fun.
The McLaren Formula 1 team doesn’t appear to be an option for Palou for 2024, though 2025 could be a possibility if Lando Norris wants out of his deal early. Palou could always spend somewhat of a stop-gap season at Arrow McLaren next year too.
But talk of Norris wanting out has cooled considerably amid McLaren’s recent resurgence following their new upgrades, and there is just as little reason to believe that Piastri will end up elsewhere.
One potential landing spot that has recently emerged for Palou is Red Bull sister team AlphaTauri, which could give him the opportunity to slide into Sergio Perez’s Red Bull seat in 2025.
Regardless, any change in Palou’s home for 2024 will require him to give up something that so many other drivers would love to have the luxury of having.
Such a change will change the competitive landscape of IndyCar for years if not decades to come.
Chip Ganassi has made clear that he is willing to let bygones be bygones and that he wants Palou back in 2024, implying that the No. 10 car is his if he wants it and that the funding is there to make it happen.
Interestingly, also facing an uncertain future at Chip Ganassi Racing is Marcus Ericsson. While Ganassi wants Ericsson to continue to bring funding, the 2022 Indy 500 champion wants to be treated (paid) like a top driver.
This stalemate has led to further speculation that perhaps Palou was in a similar situation last year and that’s why he wanted out to begin with.
Could Palou’s decision determine whether or not Ganassi can afford to give Ericsson the contract he wants? Could the team lose — or even retain — both drivers post-2023?
One might think that all is right with the world at what is clearly IndyCar’s top team with IndyCar’s undisputed top driver, but there are quite a few questions that must be answered. And the answers may not be easy to figure out over the next few months.