Battle hardens: McLaren wants tens of millions from Palou

Battle hardens: McLaren wants tens of millions from Palou

19 September - 13:36

Ludo van Denderen

The mud-slinging between McLaren and Alex Palou continues. After the Spaniard failed his reserve duties in Singapore last weekend, it is becoming increasingly clear how much money the IndyCar champion's racing stable wants in return. It is reportedly many tens of millions in damages McLaren expects to suffer thanks to Palou. An amount the Spaniard will therefore have to cough up if it is up to Zak Brown's team.

No, he really wasn't there. Alex Palou was supposed to report to Singapore to serve as McLaren's reserve driver, but as expected, the Spaniard was missing. The now two-time IndyCar champion is currently at odds with McLaren after deciding not to honour his agreed contract after all. Rather, Palou is staying with Ganassi Racing. This means that he does not want to race for McLaren in IndyCar and has renounced a reserve role with the British F1 team.

Legal battle between Palou and McLaren

Although McLaren will no doubt pretend otherwise out loud, Palou's absence in Singapore was a win. As a result, the team is likely to be a lot stronger again in the legal battle that has now erupted. Recently, Palou has already been taken to court in London for breach of contract. These documents are now public and they show that Palou signed a commitment on 1 October 2022 to race for McLaren in IndyCar for three seasons from 2024. This contract followed an earlier agreement to be the F1 team's 2023 test and reserve driver as early as the Singapore Grand Prix.

McLaren reports in papers filed with the court that it is seeking £200,000 in damages. However, IndyStar understands that while it is normal in the UK to explicitly state this amount, it by no means implies that it is also going to be the final sum claimed. The newspaper relies on sources who report that McLaren will eventually demand $20 to $30 million from Palou.

This sum includes compensation for legal costs incurred a year ago when McLaren assisted Palou precisely in leaving Ganassi. Investments were also made in a testing programme by Palou. In addition, sponsors were attracted by McLaren, with the side note that they were sponsoring a team with the reigning IndyCar champion in it. In other words, their fees would have been higher than if Palou had not been under contract at McLaren.

Could Palou have signed with McLaren though?

There is one notable fact, though: it was clear from a previous court case that apart from Ganassi, no other team was allowed to negotiate with Palou until 1 September 2023. So the big question is why Palou could sign a commitment with McLaren after all? Or perhaps: this commitment with McLaren is not legally valid due to this old clause?

These are questions that will undoubtedly be answered in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, McLaren is no longer counting on Palou, who was actually supposed to be given a chance in free practice at an F1 weekend this season. Current McLaren driver in IndyCar Pato O'Ward, meanwhile, has been announced as a driver for free practice at the Abu Dhabi GP. By the way, McLaren is not obliged to give a rookie the chance, because with Oscar Piastri, they have already complied with the so-called rookie rule; whereby twice a season, a driver with a maximum of two Grands Prix ridden must drive a free practice session in Formula One.

O'Ward will get a chance as it will earn him points to qualify for a Super Licence. McLaren has since applied for one for him, but the rules are unclear - due to COVID-19 time adjustments - so it is unknown whether O'Ward has enough points for the licence now.

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