Motorsports Gone Mad: Silly season spins out of control

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Alpine driver Fernando Alonso of Spain walks through paddock prior the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring racetrack in Mogyorod, near Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, July 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Fernando Alonso created this mess, right?

Or was it IndyCar champion Alex Palou?

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Maybe the blame should be aimed at McLaren Racing head Zak Brown? After all, he’s the one stockpiling just about anyone who can drive a race car in a motorsports silly season in which the domino effects stretch three series, across the globe and into at least one courtroom.

Palou perhaps kicked it all off a month ago. Chip Ganassi said he'd picked up the team option on the Spaniard's contract for next season, but the driver denounced the team-issued news release and said he would not be returning in 2023. Minutes later McLaren said it had signed Palou.

Ganassi is now suing Palou, who says emphatically he'll be with McLaren next season, and the entire IndyCar paddock has watched wide-eyed as each race weekend brings a new twist to the legal drama.

But then Alonso upped the stakes when Aston Martin blindsided the Formula One world with its announcement Monday that it had signed the two-time world champion. Alonso had not felt it necessary to inform his current team, which assumed he was returning to Alpine for one more year.

Alpine then had to scramble and said late the next day it was promoting its reserve driver into Alonso's seat. Oscar Piastri then pulled a Palou — his tweet declining Alpine's F1 seat was worded closely to Palou's — and said he would not be driving for the team.

McLaren has not yet confirmed that it has signed the 21-year-old Australian, but all the contractual paperwork appears to have been filed on the deal even before Alonso ditched Alpine. Now McLaren is working on a buyout with current F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo, Palou is in legal limbo and Felix Rosenqvist has no idea if he's keeping his IndyCar seat with Arrow McLaren SP or being shipped to Formula E and replaced by Palou.

With only four races remaining in the most watched IndyCar season in decades and a six-driver championship fight, the entire paddock is fixated on this contractual drama and who drives where next season.

“I hope all the drivers are OK and they get to drive for who they want. But we’ll see,” said Colton Herta, who already has tested the McLaren F1 car this year and is supposed to drive a first practice session during a race weekend this year.

Of course, the Herta plans were made before Brown snapped up every young talent he could get his hands on, and now even McLaren's packed roster is dizzying. Here's what we know:

ALONSO: Held the option on his contract with Alpine, left for Aston Martin when he wasn't offered a multiyear deal.

PIASTRI: Became available for McLaren to sign before Alonso's decision because Alpine apparently failed to file contractual paperwork on him for 2023.

PALOU: Jumped at a shot to join McLaren for an opportunity in F1. If able to get out of his Ganassi ride for 2023, would bump Rosenqvist from the McLaren IndyCar lineup and also become McLaren's F1 reserve driver.

PATO O'WARD: Under contract to McLaren in IndyCar, expected to test in F1 next season.

HERTA: Expected to continue testing for McLaren in F1, could still do FP1s in F1 this season depending on how 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 McLaren IndyCar lineup next season.

ROSENQVIST: Announced with McLaren in early June an agreement to continue with the team, in either IndyCar or with the Formula E team it will start next season. Sits in limbo awaiting a Palou resolution, but desperately wants to keep his IndyCar seat.

If there's any sympathy to show in this saga it should go to Rosenqvist, who has gotten caught in Brown's attempt to stockpile a deep bench of drivers. While he might have initially agreed to the Formula E move, a fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 ignited a performance pickup and desire to hang on to his seat.

Ahead of Sunday's race in Nashville came indicators that the Swede was shopping himself to other teams should Brown move forward on the Formula E plan. But McLaren holds the 2023 option on Rosenqvist's contract and will likely hold it until the Palou case is settled; by that time, all the IndyCar seats might be full and Rosenqvist would be left with nothing.

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

“That’s between me and Zak to be honest,” he said in Nashville about his future. “I prefer not to talk about contracts. That’s why they’re contracts, because they’re 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 spot at McLaren?

"That we will see," he replied.

As for Brown, well, he's remained uncharacteristically quiet since the Palou and Piastri situations exploded but very much wants every driver he's signed in the McLaren family. All are moveable pieces in his master plan of returning McLaren to prominence in multiple motorsports series across the globe.

While Brown collects his stash of drivers, everyone else remains transfixed on how it will all play out and how much money it will cost in the end.


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