What Palou’s story says about McLaren’s competitive ‘F1 tactics’ – The Race

Zak Brown won’t be getting a Christmas card from Chip Ganassi this year. Although it’s probably been off the list for a while.

The McLaren Racing boss has been throwing a lot of weight behind the famous Formula 1 team since committing to a full-on IndyCar project a few years ago. And Ganassi’s eponymous, highly successful team was a recurring target.

Since 2019 McLaren have signed two Ganassi drivers in Felix Rosenqvist and Tony Kanaan, brought in Alex Palou’s Ganassi sponsor NTT this year, tried to get Palou himself to join for 2023 as well (and then again in 2024) and also hinted interest in Ganassi. other full-time drivers, IndyCar legend Scott Dixon and 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.

Palou’s saga – which took another turn last week, has been the great symbol of McLaren’s upward push into IndyCar’s elite since partnering with and then taking over the Schmidt Peterson business.

While the individual races are exciting and dangerous, in championship terms, IndyCar has been a two-horse race for a long time: Penske and Ganassi. And McLaren has more big plans than usurping Andretti as a third team, however. So making big moves.

Other big guns weren’t immune to this – McLaren got their race director (Josef Newgarden’s ex-race engineer) Gavin Ward from Penske and new general manager Brian Barnhart arrived from Andretti – but Ganassi was constantly on edge. And, at least as far as Palu was concerned, Ganassi had had enough.

“Chip likes winners”, we often hear. Chip clearly doesn’t like Zac Brown, who is clearly a divisive figure. But the tactics – aggressive, competitive, “F1” whatever – are there for a reason.

“You have to get your elbows out,” Brown recently told The Race. “And I think every series has to start with getting the best drivers in the car and doing whatever it takes.

“It’s funny, people who are judgmental sometimes, that’s exactly what they’ve done to get where they are.

“We’ve broken into the top three and four in IndyCar, from a team that hasn’t been there before, and we had to make some aggressive moves to put Gavin Ward in, to put those drivers in.

“But I can tell you, growing up watching these guys, they’ve done the same thing over the years and they’re kind of the same when the new kid on the block comes along, that’s it.

“The establishment looks like a duopoly. And now there are three or four teams in there.

“You have to do it with talent. The good news is that I think once you build it, you don’t have to do it every day. You just have to do it to get to that level.

“I don’t stick my elbows out just to stick my elbows out. But we have to have the best driver line-ups in every series, the best talent in every series.

“Once you have this set, then you don’t have to do it on a daily basis. But we have to elevate ourselves in IndyCar and we have to get here. And it’s something we hope we don’t have to [do constantly].

“It’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s fun! But it’s all done with one purpose, to bring McLaren to the front.”

Felix Rosenqvist Gallagher Grand Prix By Dana Garrett Ref Image without watermark M90053

McLaren has made some tough moves trying to do the same in F1, where the wheels turn a little slower. The unemotional, performance-focused decisions are why McLaren wanted to drop Daniel Ricciardo, bring in Oscar Piastri, reshape its technical package earlier this year, just months after Andrea Stella became its boss. group.

It won’t always work. It may not always work. Palou’s change of heart to IndyCar is an example of the State. But McLaren will keep trying as long as they feel they have to.

Good teams don’t stand still. They look for the best talent – ​​drivers, team staff, whoever – and those talents make the choice to stay or leave depending on what’s in their best interest.

It is a great exercise in self-interest. Welcome to elite sport. Whether it’s drivers, team staff or partners, it’s vital to get the best people on board – and usually the championship teams are the best place to shop for them.

This is an age-old situation in F1 and still applies today. Mercedes and Red Bull are the gold standard, as are the first ports.

When Red Bull started their own engine program, they went shopping at Mercedes’ engine department, while Aston Martin and Ferrari were chasing both teams for top aerodynamics.

Formula 1 World Motor Racing Championship British Grand Prix Preparation Day Silverstone, England

The same goes for drivers. Ferrari have been linked with a move for Lewis Hamilton, while the future of Charles Leclerc has been debated.

And this is because the big teams make bold moves for the best talents. This is why Ferrari grabbed four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull. Mercedes made a (much more successful!) acquisition of Lewis Hamilton than his childhood McLaren supporter. Red Bull even guaranteed Max Verstappen a race seat in F1 as a 17-year-old just to beat Mercedes to his signature.

This is how F1 works. McLaren has given and taken in this regard. Now the same cruelty is being applied to IndyCar – mostly so far, even if the Palou turn means something finally went wrong. And McLaren has lost people itself. Former team principal Taylor Kiel has moved to Ganassi for 2023.

There is a degree of “live by the sword, die by the sword” in all of this. Ganassi pointed out that McLaren are playing the victim having started this whole process by interfering with Palou while he was under contract. And if you’re willing to participate in such shenanigans, you should get your pieces. McLaren had the opportunity to grab Palou because he was willing and able to break a commitment with Ganassi. He can’t really be that mad (or surprised) that Palou turned out to be unfaithful before he even joined.

He thought McLaren was the best move, so he wanted to go there. Then he changed his mind and wanted to be in Ganassi. The whole thing has huge Jenson Button/BAR/Williams vibes from the mid-2000s.

It’s inevitable that this will turn into what’s right, what’s right, what’s ‘F1’ and what’s ‘IndyCar’. Is this good or bad sportsmanship? Is it bad faith? Is it against the spirit of competition? Throw in some IndyCar vs F1 tribalism and you’ve got quite the tinderbox.

United States Formula 1 World Racing Championship Prep Grand Prix Day Austin, USA

No matter what is right, wrong, good or bad… just is. This is how competitive, elite sports work. Top teams are aggressive and selfish. They work in the shadows when necessary. The number one priority is always the best for them.

There will always be a scale to it. One person’s cruelty is another’s deadness. Especially for someone like Brown, who will have pre-existing relationships up and down the IndyCar paddock – some good, some not so good, all heavily influencing how he accepts his behavior.

But as much as Ganassi may resent Brown’s repeated attempts to destabilize his team or chase his talent, he should at least understand it. Ganassi is a force. McLaren wants to become one. Motorsport is a very small world and IndyCar is only one corner of it. Teams fighting in the same area will also fight for the same resources.

This is precisely the reality that Brown embraced. Take him at his word and, after the initial aggressive expansion, with Palou on board, McLaren could be settled by 2024.

But you can guarantee that there would be more movement in the background.

And now the attempt to land a championship driver appears to have unexpectedly failed, it would be surprising if this is the last time Brown and McLaren do anything competitive.

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