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Alex Palou says he’ll exit Ganassi for McLaren next season; joining team’s F1 test program

Alex Palou McLaren

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 20: Alex Palou (10) Chip Ganassi Racing Honda looks on during practice for the NTT IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 20, 2022, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

McLaren Racing announced Alex Palou will join its organization next season, apparently contradicting a statement from Chip Ganassi Racing earlier Tuesday that the team exercised a contract option to keep the NTT IndyCar Series champion for 2023.

In a series of tweets Tuesday night, Palou denied a Tuesday afternoon release from Ganassi that he would return to the team next season.

“I have recently learned from the media that this afternoon, without my approval, Chip Ganassi Racing issued a press release announcing I would be driving with CGR in 2023,” Palou tweeted. “Even more surprising was that CGR’s release included a ‘quote’ which did not come from me. I did not approve that press release, and I did not author or approve that quote. As I have recently informed CGR, for personal reasons, I do not intend to continue with the team after 2022.

“This evening’s unfortunate events aside, I have great respect for the CGR team, and look forward to finishing this season strongly together.”

A Chip Ganassi Racing spokesman reiterated Tuesday night to NBC Sports that “we can confirm that Alex Palou is under contract with the team through 2023.”

In its Tuesday night release, McLaren said Palou would race for the team starting in 2023 without specifying which series. McLaren fields teams in IndyCar, Formula One and Formula E. The team recently announced the re-signing of Felix Rosenqvist without confirming whether the Swedish driver would stay in IndyCar or return to Formula E next year.

McLaren will have Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi (who will leave Andretti Autosport) in its IndyCar lineup next year but has yet to name the driver for a new third car in ’23.

In its statement, the team said it “will confirm its full driver lineups across all of its racing series in due course.” Among McLaren’s two Formula One seats, Lando Norris signed a contract extension in February through 2025, and Daniel Ricciardo is signed through 2023, but the Australian’s future with the F1 team is murky amidst struggles this season.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has suggested the team could replace Ricciardo for ’23. In a Wednesday morning tweet, Ricciardo said he was “committed to McLaren until the end of next year.”

McLaren said Palou will be joining its F1 Testing of Previous Cars program that already includes fellow IndyCar stars Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward. Herta made his F1 testing debut with McLaren this week in Portugal, turning laps Monday and Tuesday in a 2021 McLaren.

Of the trio, Palou (who has raced in GP3, Spanish Formula 3, Japanese Formula 3 and Super Formula in Japan) reportedly is closest in eligibility for obtaining the FIA superlicense required to race in F1. (Palou already might qualify; Herta and O’Ward currently are short of the requirements but can acquire one by accumulating points with IndyCar results and in F1 testing and practices).

“I’m extremely excited to join the driver roster for such an iconic team as McLaren,” Palou said in McLaren’s release. “I’m excited to be able to show what I can do behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and looking at what doors that may open. I want to thank everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing for everything they have done for me.”

Brown said in the release that “we have always said that we want the best talent at McLaren, and it’s exciting to be able to include Alex on that list. I’m also looking forward to seeing him get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car as part of our Testing of Previous Cars (TPC) programme alongside Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta as we continue to build our driver talent.

“Alex is an incredibly talented driver who has won in every series he has raced in, and I’m happy to welcome him to the McLaren family.”