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McLaren’s Zak Brown: Palou outlook unclear, but Felix Rosenqvist will stay in IndyCar

Palou Rosenqvist IndyCar

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 26: McLaren Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown looks on in the Pitlane during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2022 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

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MONTEREY, California – While the future of Alex Palou remains very uncertain (and perhaps far from resolution), there seems little doubt Felix Rosenqvist will return to the NTT IndyCar Series next year.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told a small group of reporters Sunday morning that the team will make a decision by the end of September on who will drive alongside IndyCar teammates Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi in 2023.

McLaren has signed Palou and Rosenqvist for next year. Palou is embroiled in a contract dispute with Chip Ganassi Racing, which has filed a lawsuit against the defending series champion that maintains the team retains rights to the Spaniard.

Rosenqvist, who is in his second season at McLaren after two years with Ganassi, initially signed an extension in June that had him ticketed for IndyCar or Formula E depending on where McLaren had room.

PALOU HINTS AT RETURN: After win, Palou left door open to remain at Ganassi

But with Palou’s situation still undecided, the team has until the end of September to keep Rosenqvist or allow him to leave for another IndyCar ride. Brown said McLaren no longer would hold Rosenqvist, who has been courted by multiple IndyCar teams for 2023, to keeping him in Formula E.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Brown said, about six hours before Palou won the season finale and then hinted he might stay at Ganassi. “What I would say is I’m very happy with Felix. He’s done an excellent job this year. He’s been strong all year. We’ll see how that works out. I’d be very happy to have Felix in our car again.

“We need to make a decision, because I think he would be picked up by another (IndyCar) team.”

Though Rosenqvist’s outlook has some clarity, Palou’s situation remains hazy. Ganassi and Palou reportedly have been working through arbitration to attempt to reach a settlement and avoid court.

Asked what the likelihood of Palou’s situation being resolved within the next three weeks, Brown said, “hard to tell. I’d say the ball’s in Chip’s court.”

Brown demurred when asked whether McLaren would walk away from its deal with Palou but indicated the organization (which has entries in Formula One, IndyCar, Formula E and Extreme E) could keep Palou occupied if he wasn’t racing in IndyCar next year.

“Ultimately, we need to make a decision to be prepared going into next year, so I think by the end of the month, we’ll know what we’re doing,” Brown said. “I’m very happy to keep (Palou) testing in a Formula One environment, but that would be something that Alex and Ganassi would have to agree on between them.”

This is the second instance this season in which McLaren has been embroiled in a high-profile contract dispute. The team recently won the rights to Oscar Piastri over Alpine in a case decided by Formula One’s Contract Recognition Board.

Here are highlights of what Brown had to say about both disputes Sunday morning in a 30-minute sitdown before the IndyCar season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca:

Q: Are you surprised how you got involved in similar issues in multiple series?

Brown: “They were two totally separate issues that just came together at the same time. I’m pleased with the outcome, obviously, not just the outcome but what then became clear of what happened. Because we didn’t comment on it. We knew we had a contract. I think as the CRB ruled, it was unanimous. They gave their commentary. So that was good to get that done. Unfortunate to have two at the same time.

Q: Is there any scenario where it wouldn’t be Rosenqvist or Palou next year in the third car? Is there any scenario of another driver as the teammate to Pato and Rossi next year?

Brown: “Sitting here right now, no. But who knows what happens tomorrow sitting here right now.”

Q: What happens if you’re face to face with Chip (Ganassi) today. Do you talk?

Brown: “I haven’t spoken with him since this has all happened, but yeah, I certainly would.

Q: Would he speak to you?

Brown: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him (laughs). I spent some good time with Mike Hull (managing director at Ganassi). Mike Hull and I get along very well.

Q: Are you surprised there was a perception of McLaren poaching drivers after the Oscar Piastri situation?

Brown: “I think before people saw the CRB ruling, they didn’t know what they didn’t know, and we kept our mouths shut deliberately. Now that ruling has come out in good detail, it’s clear what happened there. We recognized there was a lot of noise, but we knew the truth would come out eventually, and we just need to kind of ride it out as opposed to giving a running commentary. So at the time, not oblivious to the noise and some of the direct message notes that I got from fans. But now we’re very comfortable the CRB has come out, and that’s very clear there, and I’m sure we’ll get this resolved here shortly.

Q: Did the decision to stay mum on Piastri come from how Palou transpired?

Brown: “No, they were two totally separate issues that unfortunately came together at the same time, so it was very noisy, but we really haven’t commented on anything over here, either. I think it was better just to let things play out and give a little bit of color afterward. I think if you look at all of the comments by Otmar (Szafnauer, the team principal of Alpine), he was giving a little play by play of the CRB and how confident they were, and now I think he looks a little silly. I think that’s why it’s best to keep your mouth shut, and we can talk about it after the fact when there’s something concrete to say.

Q: Does IndyCar need a Contract Recognition Board?

Brown: “It worked really well in Formula One. It was a one-day hearing. Got back to us the same week. It was unanimous. The CRB has only been tested three times in its existence, and I think this is the first time of this situation in IndyCar. So I don’t know if you need one because one thing happens. Another might not happen for another 20 years, but the CRB worked well in Formula One.”

Q: What happened with Felix and the alternative plan to put him in Formula E?

Brown: “There’s been a lot of speculation about that, so it’s better to clear that up. At the time we made the announcement, Felix was happy to continue in IndyCar and was also very happy to go into Formula E. So at the time, we had an agreement between us and said I’m happy wherever you put me. Hence we made the announcement to give him comfort and us that we’re going to be racing together. After that time, he decided he wants to stay in IndyCar, and that’s what happened. So instead of me going this is what we agreed, I’d never hold a driver back from what they want to do. So I told Felix I understand you want to be in IndyCar. Let’s see what happens. There’s other activity that came out post-that. We’ve announced Rene Rast (for Formula E), we’re finishing up who’s in the second car. So ultimately released (Felix) from our verbal agreement. We had a handshake, and post-that, he wanted to do IndyCar, and I understand that. I don’t think it would have been right to say, Yeah, but we’ve agreed to this.

Q: If you’re not a part of the Ganassi-Palou lawsuit but want to help move things along, how’s that work?

Brown: “I think everybody wants resolution. We do. Alex does. Ganassi will. So whatever we can do to help make people make decisions, we’re willing to help to a certain extent. But the last race of the year here, we need to get on with our planning for next year.”

Q: So it’s virtually 100 percent certain Felix Rosenqvist will race in IndyCar next year, whether your team or somebody else?

Brown: “It’s 100 percent certain that’s what he wants to, I couldn’t comment if he didn’t race here, would he definitely get a ride (in IndyCar). I think he would. But I don’t know that for sure.”

Q: Did the level of acrimony with the Palou situation surprise you?

Brown: “No. It’s not what I thought going in, because I understood he was free and clear.

Q: Did he mislead you?

Brown: “I don’t want to get into any commentary on our conversations.”

Q: Is your ultimate ambition to put Alex Palou in F1?

Brown: “My ultimate ambition is Alex is a McLaren Racing driver, and we have the benefit of having a variety of teams. Certainly he’ll have opportunity that we can provide him. The possibility of Formula One, I think that’s what is attractive to him.”

Q: Do you have any contact with Alex Palou after the IndyCar season ends, or do you wait until it all plays out?

Brown: “We wait. I think they need to resolve the situation.”