The signing of Alex Palou by the McLaren IndyCar team also brings with it a change of mentality in the Spanish driver, who now mentions Formula 1 as a plausible goal for the future.
Palou has always been a rider with realistic goals. Since his years in the lower categories, his true objective was not so much Formula 1 as securing a salary, ideally as a professional driver and if not in some job related to the engine.
A good example of this is the approach he followed in his formative years.
When I was racing karts, Plan B was always to stay as a factory driver for a manufacturer during my younger years and then become just another mechanic. His father explained it in the profile we dedicated to him on SoyMotor.com when he became IndyCar champion.
Even when he jumped to Campos Racing he became interested in the possibility of having some kind of position in the team, in case he did not become a professional driver.
Far from losing the north for Formula 1, Palou prioritized professionalization and left for Japan at the time to try to find his place on the international scene.
To understand his perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that Alex has never had any major sponsors in his career. Only people who have trusted his talent.
The fear, therefore, that one day the tap would be turned off and he would have to put an end to his career was more than real. Hence, the priority was to guarantee a future, rather than dream of improbable things.
And it is fair to say that his goal was really fulfilled in Japan, where he became an official Honda driver and had offers on the table to stay in Super Formula and Super GT.
Even so, even then, having secured a minimum base made him take his ambition to the next level. And that’s where he allowed himself to dream of IndyCar, which he landed in 2020 with the help of the people who had invested in him in the country of the rising sun.
His spectacular debut with Dale Coyne caught the attention of Chip Ganassi, who at the end of 2020 offered him a two-year contract that has definitively consolidated him in the international motorsport elite.
Since his jump to IndyCar, Palou had said actively and passively that his true goal was to carve out a long and successful career in the image and likeness of Scott Dixon.
It is enough to compare the age of one and the other to see that Palou had on the table the possibility of being the generational replacement of the Australian star in Chip Ganassi.
Asked about the siren songs of Formula 1, he said from his days in Japan that he preferred to have fun with a winning car than to suffer in the middle zone with single-seaters that gave him no chance at all.
But now that professionalization is no longer in danger and that he is one of the most sought-after talents in the United States, the Catalan has allowed himself to take the next step in his personal ambitions.
His joining McLaren will bring with it a private training program with a Formula 1 car and now Palou no longer rules out any scenario for the future.
“I really want to show what I’m capable of behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and I want to see what doors can be opened,” he said in his first statements after the announcement.
Beyond economic reasons, Formula 1 is the only compelling reason to give up Chip Ganassi knowing that he would have a competitive car there for the rest of his career.
Now the ball is in the court of the lawyers, who will have to decide who is right: Ganassi in executing the option to renew his contract or Palou in committing to McLaren.
In the messages that Alex has published at dawn to announce his signing for McLaren, he has said that “recently” he informed Ganassi that he did not want to continue in 2023 for “personal reasons”.
This could be understood as a pre-notice to nullify the renewal clause for the following season, although only the wording of the contract will say who is right.
It is striking that McLaren has not confirmed in which category Palou will run next season. This is not the first time this has happened.
In June, the team announced that Felix Rosenqvist “will continue” to be linked to them in 2023. What he did not say is that it will not be in IndyCar as before, but in Formula E.
McLaren currently has two full-time cars in IndyCar – O’Ward, Rosenqvist – but its ambition is to expand its operation to three single-seaters by 2023.
He has already renewed Patricio O’Ward and hired Alexander Rossi, the star signing of the Andretti team. And Palou’s name would be the perfect option to complete the trident.
Indeed, McLaren says in its statement that Palou’s tests with the McLaren MCL35M will be “in addition to his racing commitments”, reinforcing the IndyCar track for his full-time programme, by at least 2023.
What is clear is that, with McLaren, Alex Palou is taking his ambition to the next level and setting Formula 1 as a realistic goal for the first time in his career.
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