McLaren 'musical chairs' approach might have finally paid off

If McLaren do indeed remain patient this time around, their recent slew of IndyCar driver lineup changes might very well pay off.
Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar
Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren, Indy 500, IndyCar / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arrow McLaren's bold IndyCar driver changes have become so common – and have, in more than one instance, featured some sort of controversy – that we've reached a point where the team take online criticism simply for not extending a driver's expiring contract.

Though on the surface it did not seem right for the team to cut ties with Alexander Rossi, their top finisher in last year's Indy 500 (fifth place) and the fourth place finisher in this year's race, the week after he secured a podium finish to move up to seventh in the championship standings, they were under no obligation to keep him in the No. 7 Chevrolet for a third year in 2025.

They opted to sign current Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Christian Lundgaard for the 2025 season instead, presumably solidifying their three-car lineup for next year. Pato O'Ward is set to return for a sixth year behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet, and recent newcomer Nolan Siegel is set to continue behind the wheel of the No. 6 Chevrolet.

All of the changes – and attempted changes – at Arrow McLaren in recent years point toward a "get rich quick" mentality that simply hasn't paid off. As of this moment, this organization is no more competitive than it was during the mid-to-late 2010s of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports days.

The team haven't stood atop the podium since July 2022, when Pato O'Ward won at Iowa Speedway (after Team Penske's Josef Newgarden wrecked out of the lead with a fluke shock failure). O'Ward did win this year's race on the streets of St. Petersburg, but only after Newgarden was stripped of the victory 45 days later.

On pure race pace, it has been 26 months since Arrow McLaren have found victory lane.

After Arrow McLaren tried to steal Alex Palou from under Chip Ganassi Racing's nose, and after they were said to have (twice) approached teammate Scott Dixon in an attempt to do the same, Chip Ganassi came out with a quote instructing CEO Zak Brown to find and develop his own drivers instead of trying to poach them from elsewhere.

Several driver changes later, have McLaren finally gotten it right?

O'Ward, officially a five-time race winner, has managed to remain with the team since they entered IndyCar as Arrow McLaren SP in 2020 after forming a partnership with the existing Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.

During his time at the organization, the team have signed and/or had a total of 15 different drivers in their other cars.


It feels more like a Cleveland Browns coaching stat than a driver count for a team considered one of IndyCar's best.

Oliver Askew competed full-time in 2020 and was replaced by Helio Castroneves for two races due to a head injury he suffered in the Indy 500. Fernando Alonso also competed for the team in the Indy 500 that year.

The team cut ties with Askew, since he reportedly hid his concussion, before welcoming him back for one race as the replacement for the injured Felix Rosenqvist in 2021. Kevin Magnussen also replaced Rosenqvist for one race, and Juan Pablo Montoya competed in the Indy 500 plus an additional race for the team that year.

In 2022, the team signed Alex Palou to compete full-time in 2023, leading to a legal battle which ultimately culminated with Chip Ganassi Racing retaining his services. Palou was due to move to McLaren in 2024 as Rosenqvist's replacement, but he once again decided to stay. With Brown having fallen to 0-for-2, that legal battle remains ongoing.

Also in 2023, Alexander Rossi joined as a third full-time driver in 2023, and Tony Kanaan made his final Indy 500 start before moving into his current role as the team's sporting director.

Instead of Palou, the team signed David Malukas to drive the No. 6 Chevrolet in 2024, but after a preseason mountain biking accident, Malukas was sidelined with a wrist injury. After missing four starts, during which time he was replaced by both Callum Ilott and Theo Pourchaire, the team cut ties with Malukas. Kyle Larson also competed for the team in the Indy 500.

Despite having confirmed Pourchaire as Malukas's replacement for the remainder of the 2024 season, the team turned to Nolan Siegel with 10 races left on the calendar. Then they announced Christian Lundgaard as Rossi's replacement for 2025.

If Arrow McLaren remain patient, the trio of O'Ward, Lundgaard, and Siegel can be a formidable one for years to come.

O'Ward is O'Ward. He is always a contender at Indy, and while he has yet to truly solidify himself as a full-season title threat, he has emerged in that second tier, even having gone two years without a (true) trip to victory lane.

Siegel impressed the team enough for Kanaan to basically risk his job by putting him in the car early. The team simply didn't want to let him get away to a rival, and he impressed in his first start, finishing 12th after starting in 23rd place (and even overcoming a mid-race spin).

As for Lundgaard, there was really no doubt that he was going to end up leaving Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after yet another abysmal showing by the team during the month of May. The question was whether or not a seat would open elsewhere.

After team principal Gavin Ward's wishy-washy comments on Rossi's future when pressed on whether or not Pourchaire could come back last year, it became clear that there would indeed be an open seat at one of the top teams.

Lundgaard's status as the top free agent following Newgarden's Penske extension made it a perfect fit, because once again, had they waited, they likely would have missed out.

Long considered a driver whose full potential was yet to be extracted at a mid-pack team, the Danish driver has still had plenty of success during his three seasons in IndyCar.

He has finished on the podium every year, and after winning for the first time on the streets of Toronto last year, he went on to finish in a career-high eighth place in the championship standings – and fifth in the road and street course standings. Up until the end of the year, he had been third behind only the Ganassi duo of multi-time series champions Palou and Dixon.

The average age of the trio is 22 years old. If McLaren are serious about "finding stability", three driver changes after making that claim, this is the trio with which they need to operate for the foreseeable future.

The "get rich quick" method hasn't paid off so far, and a knee-jerk reaction to replace any of these three drivers in the event they underperform will only do more harm than good, no matter who becomes available.

Brown was quoted as saying "we want drivers invested in the team" last year after Palou backed out on his deal. But if McLaren cannot return that same level of investment, they will be stuck in that mid-tier group behind the likes of Penske and Ganassi, and even Andretti Global, for years to come.

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If they can, perhaps they can truly emerge as a threat to the two organizations that have had a stranglehold on the IndyCar championship for the last decade-plus. With these three drivers of this caliber all under contract through at least 2026, the time for excuses is behind them.