McLaren has put the motorsport world in a very interesting position this silly season. With their IndyCar entry now being used as another home for their testing stable drivers they now have the opportunity to use it in a manner not seen before in the motorsport world. The closest thing we have seen to this is Red Bull using their sister team Alpha Tauri, or Toro Rosso as it was once known, to house younger drivers while they prepare for the big team. But McLaren looks to be doing the same thing but across racing series.
While they have not made any solid moves, the possibility of a driver change across the pond has ramped up recently with McLarens acquisition of 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou. Palou joins a newly formed stable of testing drivers for McLaren consisting of fellow Indy driver, Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta.
What separates Palou from the others is his success in the series, Palou was crowed champion in only his second season in IndyCar and first season in a competitive team. He also was but a few laps away from winning the 2021 Indy 500 as well, but was overtaken by a storming Helio Castroneves on route to his fourth 500 victory. Palou is an incredible asset to the McLaren team no matter where he ends up, but I think he provides some very interesting hypotheticals to the 2023 driver market.
The major question that the McLaren driver market, and the international driver market as a whole, hinges on is Daniel Ricciardio and his future with the McLaren F1 team. He has not been preforming to the lofty expectation put on him by fans and the team alike when he entered the fold and everyone realizes that, including Ricciardio.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown has been adamant that Riccardo’s 2023 plans are entirely up to him and the team will work around it. It has also been reported that McLaren has been exploring contingency plans in case the Australian decided to move on from the team, and I believe this Palou move is a part of that. If McLaren are looking to put one of their IndyCar drivers into the F1 seat, by signing Palou he has shot to the top of that list. When just O’Ward and Herta were in the conversation, McLaren were going to have to take some serious risks considering the lack of experience and maturity from both drivers.
When it comes to Palou, McLaren has a lot fewer concessions to make if they choose to put him in the F1 team. His race craft is excellent, he may not always be the best across one lap, but he will almost always make up for it on race day. He is significantly more mature than his contemporaries in the McLaren testing stable at the moment, he is known to “take what he is given” as the commentators often refer to it. That means he won’t make any desperation moves that may ruin his race if he is in a good point paying position near the end of the race, he understands that there is more to get out of a race than just a win and that is what won him a championship. I believe that those qualities will outweigh the challenges that will come with a change in machinery if he does end up in F1.
If McLaren chooses to go the Indy car direction in 2023, Alex Palou is a no-brainer, if they chose to wait a year or two, then the competition from his stable mates will increase as they mature, then we have a much more interesting conversation on our hands. No matter who ends up in F1 first, all three of these drivers will be excellent ambassadors for IndyCar to the rest of the world and will play an integral part in helping the series break overseas like they are aiming to do. What decision is finally made, only time will tell, but we are for sure in for an interesting few weeks of speculation regarding the McLaren in both F1 and IndyCar.