Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

With apologies to The Who; the silliest of IndyCar silly seasons for 2023, got a little less silly on Wednesday when we learned that two high-profile drivers that have been in limbo, were confirmed for the seats they have occupied for the past two years. There is a common thread with both of them – McLaren.

Felix Rosenqvist entered the 2022 IndyCar season with a giant question mark hanging over his head. After a disappointing 2021 season, that saw him finish twenty-first in the point standings – Felix Rosenqvist had very little margin for error in 2022. The season did not start well for Rosenqvist. Through four races, he had finishes of seventeenth, twenty-first, eleventh and sixteenth. That’s not the start you want when your job is hanging by a thread.

We attended a post-race press conference at Barber, which was the fourth race of the season. Taylor Kiel, President of Arrow McLaren SP, was on-hand since Pato O’Ward had won the race. Someone asked Kiel about the future of Rosenqvist, and he gave the non-committal answer you would expect from someone that planned to release a driver, but wasn’t ready to say so yet.

Something clicked for Rosenqvist, after Barber. He finished sixth in the GMR Grand Prix and fourth in the Indianapolis 500. In fact, the Month of May at Indianapolis started a thirteen-race stretch that saw Rosenqvist finish with three Top-Fives, and eight more Top-Tens. Do the math and that leaves only two races out of thirteen that saw two finishes out of the Top-Ten.

That improvement earned Rosenqvist a new contract with McLaren, but not necessarily with Arrow McLaren SP – McLaren’s IndyCar team. It was widely believed that Rosenqvist would be exiled to McLaren’s Formula-E team. Rosenqvist made it clear that he preferred to stay in the NTT IndyCar Series, but would race wherever he was told to race. At least he knew he had a job for 2023.

It was around this same time that Alex Palou released the bombshell that he would be leaving Chip Ganassi Racing to move to McLaren for 2023. There was only one small problem – Palou was under contract to drive for Chip Ganassi in 2023, in the same car he won the 2021 IndyCar title in.

I understand there is a lot more that none of us know, but it appears that Ganassi had an iron-clad contract with Palou and had every intention of holding the Spaniard to it. Things got ugly quickly. In all honesty, I was surprised that Ganassi didn’t yank Palou out of the car before the series headed to Toronto – the first race after Palou’s announcement.

Without going through all of the legalities that transpired over the last two months, it’s a good thing that Ganassi did not act on emotion and put someone else in that car for the remainder of the season. It probably bolstered Ganassi’s case in the legal battle with Palou; but cooler heads prevailing on both sides will probably work out for both.

While he was incensed at Palou’s attempt to move to greener pastures, Ganassi probably looked at all possibilities for the No. 10 car moving forward and came to the conclusion that Alex Palou gave him his best opportunity to win.

I’ll give credit to Kevin Lee on this one. For the last few weeks on Trackside he has been saying that he was more and more inclined to think that Palou would be back with Ganassi for 2023. I didn’t think it was possible, which shows how much I know.

But I’ll also give credit to both parties for keeping their emotions in check.

I’ll be honest…I wasn’t a huge Alex Palou fan before this season. It’s one of those things I can’t put my finger on, but I’ve just never cared for him. My wife Susan has always liked him and was pulling for him to win the championship last season. Me? Not so much. After he pulled this stunt of being under contract to two different teams, my opinion of him dropped even lower. But he impressed me with his ability to block all of the distractions out of his head, when he climbed into the cockpit. I’ve always felt like I do a pretty good job of compartmentalizing things, and I admire others who have that same ability.

Lots of credit also goes to Chip Ganassi. He is not one to put up with a lot of foolishness within his team. Just ask Tomas Scheckter. I fully expected him to pull Palou out of the car in July and let someone like Santino Ferrucci or Ryan Hunter-Reay finish out the season. But he kept his cool and ultimately kept his driver.

Will it last? Time will tell. I have been in some facet of the employment industry since 1997. I learned years ago that if an employee tries to leave a job and the employer makes concessions to keep them, the employee usually will ultimately leave in about six months. They think the extra money (or allowances for Formula One testing) will make them happy, but eventually they realize what prompted their original exit is still a factor. Stay tuned on that front with Palou.

Overall, I’m glad both of these situations turned out like they did. Pato O’Ward was very vocal in his support of Rosenqvist as a teammate. I’m glad to finally know who will be the teammate to O’Ward and Alexander Rossi at Arrow McLaren SP. I’m also glad that Ganassi didn’t buckle to let Palou breach his contract. While I’m not a fan of Palou’s, I think the best drivers should be with the best teams. They have made great strides, but I still don’t think Arrow McLaren SP has leveled the playing field with Penske and Ganassi. I will acknowledge that Palou is one of the top drivers, and I think he should be with Ganassi.

We’ve seen enough silliness in this year’s silly season. I’m glad to see that two of the drivers that have been in play will not be making a change. Remember…Change is Bad!

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss”

  1. I’m glad Rosenqvist retained his ride. Once the screws were put to him he delivered. I’ve never had any beef with Palou, seems like a decent kid, but O’Ward on the other hand. Just like you, it’s the “something about him” feeling.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    What a long, strange trip to the status quo. But George raises an especially good point:

    “They think the extra money (or allowances for Formula One testing) will make them happy, but eventually they realize what prompted their original exit is still a factor.”

    The Palou-Ganassi relationship is most likely still quite far from fully repaired. It could remain fragile, we shall see.

  3. As the Palou relationship is just I believe for 2023 it would seem that his head will be turned by any expression of interest from a F1 team but not sure if that is likely. As he is not American RedBull will probably not have a go while Mclaren are sorted with two exceptional drivers in F1. Hopefully Ganassi will get an extension as Palou is their bet for now and the future. They need to get another young gun in place just in case he ups and goes. Therefore I see four cars which unlikely, Marcus moving on or Dixon retiring and going into management. I think if Dixon wins the 500 he might well say thanks and hang up his helmet in his prime.

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