Palou: Lack of F1 guarantee at my age played part in McLaren U-turn

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Palou, who won his second IndyCar title for the team at Portland last weekend, had been driving TPC (testing previous cars) machinery as reserve driver for McLaren’s F1 team ahead of his expected switch to Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar squad next year.

This was understood to be part of an evaluation phase of his potential to become part of McLaren’s F1 driver lineup in future.

But his decision at the start of August to perform a U-turn on that McLaren move, to stay with Ganassi, has halted his F1 ambitions.

Palou spoke to select group of media, including, at Pebble Beach in California on Wednesday. He explained how his attitude towards F1 has shifted in recent years, given his age and the lack of a cast-iron guarantee of a racing future there.

“There’s no hiding, like, if you look at my interviews until ’21, I was saying that I was not focused on F1 at all,” he said. “And that was totally true, but things changed when I won the championship just because I was 24.

“I just won my first big championship and it was like, ‘What if I try something?’ It can go sideways, but then I come back [to IndyCar] and I’m 27, and I’m still super young, and I can still do it for like 15 or 10 years.

“So, then it changed. [The] door opened a little bit with McLaren. It was amazing. I got to test the [F1] cars and also Practice One at COTA last year, which was amazing. The opportunity was great, but there was nothing else there saying, ‘Oh, you will have a car’.

“At the same time, if I was 20, maybe I would’ve waited. But I’m not 20, I’m 26. And on that side, I don’t know if there’s been somebody [aged] 30 getting into F1.”

Alex Palou, McLaren MCL36

Alex Palou, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

After claiming the title in Portland on Sunday, when asked by if he still harbors thoughts of switching to F1 at some point, Palou replied: “No, I said it many times that it was not my fully focus. Then when an opportunity came, I had to go for it, I felt.

“At the same time, I know I’m not 21 or 19. I’m already 26, which is good. I’m not saying I’m old, but I mean, it’s not that I’m super young. So, next year I’ll be 27. If an [F1] opportunity comes in the future, which is like really, really small chances, I’ll think about it for sure, 100%.

“But I’m happy honestly. As long as I keep on winning championships and races or battling for championships I think I’ll have a great career.”

Palou has been instructed by his lawyers not to comment on any contractual matters, as McLaren has taken legal action against him through the UK High Court.

When asked if he was surprised by McLaren’s course of action, he replied: “No, I was expecting it. I mean, maybe not that way of like doing stuff. But yeah, I was expecting [it] sooner rather than later that there was going to be some movement, for sure.”

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