F1 and IndyCar driver markets plagued by contract disputes

Fernando Alonso of Spain and Alpine F1 arrive at the drivers parade ahead of the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix on July 31, 2022 in Budapest, Hungary.

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Alpine F1 reserve driver Oscar Piastri of Australia walks in the paddock before training ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Spain on May 20, 2022 in Barcelona.

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McLaren have yet to confirm they have signed the 21-year-old Australian, but all contract documents appear to have been filed on the deal even before Alonso dropped out of Alpine. Now McLaren is working on a takeover with current F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, Palou is in a legal limbo and Felix Rosenqvist has no idea if he keeps his IndyCar seat with Arrow McLaren SP or is sent to Formula E and replaced by Palou.

With just four races remaining in the most-watched IndyCar season in decades and a six-driver championship fight, the entire paddock is obsessed with this contract drama and who drives where next season.

“I hope all the drivers are doing well and can drive for whoever they want. But we’ll see,” said Colton Herta, who has already tested the McLaren F1 car this year and is expected to drive a first practice session. testing at a race weekend this year.

Of course, Herta’s plans were drawn up before Brown recruited all the young talent he could get his hands on, and now even McLaren’s full roster is dizzying. Here’s what we know:

ALONSO: Held the option on his contract with Alpine, left for Aston Martin when he was not offered a multi-year contract.

PIASTRI: Became available for McLaren to sign ahead of Alonso’s decision because Alpine apparently did not file contract documents on him for 2023.

PALOU: Jumped on a whim to join McLaren for an F1 opportunity. If he was able to exit his race at Ganassi for 2023, he would knock Rosenqvist out of the McLaren IndyCar lineup and also become McLaren’s reserve F1 driver.

Alex Palou of Spain and Chip Ganassi Racing talk to his crew before the 2022 Indianapolis 500 Carb Day on May 27, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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PATO O’WARD: Under contract with McLaren in IndyCar, planned to test in F1 next season.

HERTA: Should continue testing for McLaren in F1, could still do FP1 in F1 this season depending on how the Palou situation is settled and/or if McLaren has access to Piastri before the end of 2022.

ALEXANDER ROSSI: Signed to leave Andretti Autosport and join the McLaren IndyCar lineup next season.

ROSENQVIST: Announced with McLaren at the beginning of June an agreement to continue with the team, either in IndyCar or with the Formula E team, it will start next season. Sitting in limbo awaiting a Palou resolution, but desperate to keep his IndyCar seat.

If there’s any sympathy to show in this saga, it should go to Rosenqvist, who got caught in Brown’s attempt to build a deep bench of drivers. Although he may have initially accepted the move to Formula E, a fourth-place finish at the Indianapolis 500 sparked a revival in performance and a desire to hang on to his seat.

Ahead of Sunday’s race in Nashville, there were signs the Swede was offering himself to other teams if Brown moves forward with the Formula E plan. But McLaren hold the 2023 option on Rosenqvist’s contract and will likely keep it until the Palou case is settled; by then, all the IndyCar seats could be full and Rosenqvist would have nothing left.

The situation has been exhausting for Rosenqvist, who, like just about everyone, is tired of talking about contracts.

Zak Brown of McLaren attends the team principals press conference ahead of final practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Canada on June 18, 2022 in Montreal.

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“To be honest, it’s between me and Zak,” he said in Nashville of his future. “I prefer not to talk about contracts. That’s why they are contracts, because they are made for you and the other signing party. It’s not for the public to know.”

But will he drive for another IndyCar team if Palou takes his place at McLaren?

“That, we’ll see,” he replied.

As for Brown, well, he’s been uncharacteristically quiet since the Palou and Piastri situations erupted, but he really wants every driver he’s signed in the McLaren family. All are moving parts in his master plan to restore McLaren to prominence in multiple motorsport series around the world.

As Brown gathers his reserve of pilots, everyone remains puzzled as to how it will all pan out and how much money it will cost in the end.

Disclosure: CNBC has a partnership with McLarFr.

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