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Palou has second IndyCar title in hand but contract mess follows Spaniard

Alex Palou Alex Palou - The Canadian Press

MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — McLaren Racing has a hotel room booked in Singapore next week for Alex Palou, who contractually is expected to be the team's Formula One reserve driver for the remainder of the year.

Zak Brown doesn't expect the room to be used.

The CEO of McLaren Racing doesn't know for sure that Palou won't show up — he's yet to hear from the Spaniard, who informed McLaren through attorneys last month that he would not be honoring his 2024 contract with the team in IndyCar or F1.

Brown is suing Palou in the United Kingdom for at least $20 million in damages and to recoup money already paid to the driver. In addition to an advance on his 2024 salary, Brown claims he covered Palou's legal fees in last year's fight between Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing when Palou tried to get out of his Ganassi contract early to move to McLaren.

“It's pretty surprising how it's been handled. There's what happened. But then there's also how it's been handled,” Brown said. “I'll let the court and the facts when they surface allow people to come to their own conclusions as to Alex's character.”

And so continues the saga surrounding the current IndyCar champion.

Palou clinched his second title in three years last weekend in Portland, which made Sunday's race at Laguna Seca fairly meaningless. Palou is the reigning race winner and Brown said McLaren had planned to introduce him as a centerpiece of the organization this weekend.

Ironically, it was Palou's victory a year ago when the tide apparently began to turn on his career choices. He was locked in mediation with Ganassi because Ganassi held the 2023 option on Palou and had no intention of allowing his driver to leave early for rival McLaren.

In the days after Palou's season-ending victory, a resolution was announced with Palou set to complete his final season with Ganassi but allowed to do F1 work for McLaren when it didn't conflict with IndyCar. Palou ran for McLaren in a free practice session at COTA last year, has tested in other F1 sessions and was the reserve driver for the team at Miami.

But Ganassi revealed this week that as he left Laguna Seca last year, he had a suspicion that Palou ultimately would not leave the team.

“I said, ‘I don’t think that guy’s necessarily gone,’” Ganassi said. “And let’s just leave it at that.”

Ganassi confirmed after Palou's title-clinching win that Palou would be back in the No. 10 with his organization next year.

Palou, meanwhile, is still struggling to explain his about-face. He said his own family has begged for answers, but because of the pending litigation, he's limited in what he can reveal.

“I would love to just tell you exactly everything,” Palou said. “They said to say, ‘No comment.’ There is nothing I can say that is going to help me. Whatever I say now is not going to help me. It will help the fans a little bit and I understand.

"I understand from my side, and my family wants to know what is going on. That’s normal. If it happens to my family, I imagine same for everybody else. I don’t know what I can say that can help you.”

Palou earlier this week sat outside Pebble Beach Golf Links with a small group of reporters and tried to offer as much of an explanation as he could. He indicated his career trajectory changed following his 2021 championship with Ganassi, which triggered Palou's management group to pursue an F1 seat for the driver.

“If you look at my interviews until 2021, I would say I was not focused on F1 at all, and that was totally true. But things changed when I won the championship,” Palou said. "I was 24. I had just won my first big championship and what if I try something and it goes sideways, then I can come back when I’m 27 and still super young and can still do it for 10 or 15 years.

“Then it changed. The door opened a little bit with McLaren. It was amazing. I got to test old cars and then practice one last year at COTA, and it was amazing. The opportunity was great, but there was nothing else there of ‘You will have a car.’ Maybe if I was 20, I would have waited, but I’m not 20. I’m 26. I don’t know of anyone who waited until 30 that got into Formula One.”

Further conflicting Palou is just how dominant he's been in IndyCar since joining Ganassi.

Palou has nine wins and two titles in three seasons and obliterated the competition this year. He has completed all but two laps, has nine podium finishes in 16 races and became the first driver in nearly 20 years to clinch the title before the finale.

There are no open seats in F1 that are enticing enough for Palou to give up on his Ganassi success.

“I would not trade my seat here for anything there. I would think about it. But you don’t get a lot of chances," Palou said. "In IndyCar, there are 27 cars, so that is double the cars. A lot more movement and a lot more opportunities here.”

Palou has since ditched the management agency that negotiated his deal with McLaren and reunited with former IndyCar driver Roger Yasukawa, who represented Palou when he got him out of a racing series in Japan and into IndyCar. Yasukawa also did the deal with Ganassi ahead of Palou's second season.

He's not blaming Monaco Increase Management for the mess Palou is in but feels that reuniting with Yasukawa was in his best interest.

“I cannot blame everybody for stuff that I made decisions as well,” Palou said. “It was not the right choice, that’s why I’m working with Roger Yasukawa. I knew him from Japan and told him I wanted IndyCar, and he made it happen with the team I wanted. He has always been there and helped make the jump happen from Japan to the U.S. and from Dale Coyne to Chip Ganassi."

Palou said he was not surprised that Brown went public about Palou's change of mind, and he doesn't regret declining to speak to Brown directly.

“I mean, what good is it going to do me to get into an argument with a 50-year-old businessman,” Palou said. “That's probably not a conversation I'm going to do well with.”

Palou's focus continues to be on his Ganassi team and the yearlong work he's done repairing relationships inside the organization. His teammates turned on him when he said he was leaving Ganassi.

"In 2022, I was fighting my own team,” Palou admitted. “I was fighting against my team and had to still work with them, and it was tough for both cars. It was always good with the 10 car. Chip has never been bad with me personally. Personally, face to face, he would still treat me like: ‘Hello, good morning. Have a good race.’

“Lately, he has been very good. This year has been very good.”


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