McLaren demands Palou's presence in Singapore: Will he show up?

McLaren demands Palou's presence in Singapore: Will he show up?

10-09-2023 17:24 Last update: 17:29

Ludo van Denderen

The conflict between McLaren and Alex Palou is reaching a new boiling point. A week from now, the Singapore Grand Prix is on the calendar and the Spaniard is expected to make an appearance as the British team's reserve driver. The big question now is: will Palou actually show up to fulfil his contractual obligations?

So another chapter awaits in the soap opera that has been running for over a year now, with three protagonists: the centre of all the fuss is (now) two-time IndyCar champion Palou, and the teams Arrow McLaren and Ganassi Racing. The latter team has been the Spaniard's employer for many years. With team owner Chip Ganassi's squad, Palou took his championships, the last one a week ago. But it could easily have been different.

What preceded the battle between Palou and McLaren?

In mid-2022 Palou announced his intention to break his ongoing contract with Ganassi, to switch to McLaren for the '23 season. Indeed, with CEO Zak Brown's team, Palou had the prospect of a seat in Formula 1 in due course. But Ganassi would not let their successful driver just leave and went to court. The judge agreed: Palou had to stay. Outside the courtroom, a compromise was then reached between the American team and McLaren: the Spaniard would race for Ganassi in IndyCar, as well as be a test and reserve driver for McLaren.

It was then expected that Palou would announce a final switch to Arrow McLaren's IndyCar team for 2024, where he would race in conjunction with his F1 work. But that was the (expected) theory. In reality, Palou has changed his mind - again - and wants to stay with Ganassi after all. The agreements (both laid down on paper and also done verbally) Palou no longer intends to honour.

Palou in Singapore?

Does the same apply to the agreement to be McLaren's reserve driver from the Singapore Grand Prix onwards? As soon as the IndyCar season was over (coincidentally after this Sunday), Palou was supposed to be present at every Grand Prix to replace Lando Norris or Oscar Piastri, if one of them is not available. Since McLaren took Palou to court to fulfil his commitments for next year, there has been no contact between the two parties, so it remains to be seen what that means for his agreed work in the coming period.

Although McLaren has booked a hotel room for the Spaniard and Palou is expected to appear, the team is not expecting to welcome the driver to Asia next week. To The Race last week, Brown said it was "almost certain" that Palou would not be coming, although he should. Whether an absence of Palou is smart is verse two. McLaren has reportedly already paid Palou for his work as a reserve driver. If he does not come, McLaren seems to be pretty strong in their claim to recover that money.

Who would replace Palou?

Assuming Palou is absent in Singapore, McLaren will therefore have to look for a new reserve driver. Or probably, in this case, it will be an 'old' reserve. Indeed, McLaren had an agreement with Mercedes that in case of emergency, Mick Schumacher could temporarily take a seat in the papaya-coloured cockpit. It is likely that that option will be extended for the foreseeable future.

Pato O' Ward, that other Arrow McLaren IndyCar driver with F1 ambitions, is not an option at the time of writing. This is because the Mexican lacks a Super Licence, required to race in Formula 1. A few hours before the final IndyCar race, O'Ward is fourth in the championship. If he manages to finish third - the gap to Josef Newgarden is nine points - O'Ward will get his licence.

In the coming weeks, O'Ward will get the opportunity from McLaren to test with an old McLaren F1 car. The Mexican is also likely to be allowed to take part in some free practice sessions, although McLaren is no longer obliged to do so.