Editor’s Note: The case between Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi reached a resolution on Sept. 14. Palou will remain with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2023 season.
INDIANAPOLIS — There are more layers to the contract dispute among NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou, his current team owner Chip Ganassi and his team owner in waiting Zak Brown at McLaren than an order of lasagna.
The decision that will ultimately be made affects more drivers than Palou. It also impacts the future of Indy car driver Felix Rosenqvist and maybe even a few drivers in Formula 1.
It has turned into a mid-season soap opera, leaving many confused about what is really happening.
On July 12, Chip Ganassi Racing issued a release saying it was picking up the option year on Palou’s contract for 2023. The statement included a quote from Palou, talking about how happy he was to remain with the team and win more championships.
To many, that was the end of whispers that began during the month of May that Palou could be headed elsewhere.
Palou, of course, disputed such a notion, saying he was happy with Chip Ganassi Racing and his team. When questioned at Detroit, Palou also said he had no interest in leaving for Formula 1 and that he was being compensated fairly by Ganassi.
However, roughly four hours after the July 12 announcement, McLaren issued a release that it had signed Palou to drive for the team in a “yet to be named series” in 2023.
Brown, the McLaren CEO, talked about how excited he was to add Palou to the team, noting that he looked forward to seeing Palou behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car as part of the team’s testing of previous cars program alongside fellow Indy car drivers Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP and Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport.
“Alex is an incredibly talented driver who has won in every series he has raced, and I’m happy to welcome him to the McLaren family,” Brown said.
Palou was also quoted in the McLaren release, talking about his excitement to drive the Formula 1 car and achieve a lifetime dream.
Palou stated publicly that he had never issued a quote or approved a quote for the Ganassi release. It is often common practice for team public relations representatives to craft a quote for a driver in a team release, getting the driver’s approval, then issuing it in the statement.
Ganassi is adamant that he has a contract with Palou for next season and is taking the driver to court. The lengthy court process is expected to begin shortly after the end of the NTT IndyCar Series season.
Palou continues to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing, although there isn’t much discussion between the driver and team owner. When Palou finished third in the Aug. 7 Big Machine Music City 500, Ganassi congratulated him.
According to Palou, that was the first real conversation the two have had since the contract controversy developed.
This contract dispute of an owner taking a driver to court is reminiscent of a contract dispute in the National Football League in 1966 involving a head coach and one of his assistant coaches.
George Allen was the defensive coordinator for a Chicago Bears team that was the NFL’s best when it came to defense. With such names as Bill George, Ed O’Bradovich, Larry Morris, Rosey Taylor and Richie Petitbon, the defense led the Bears to the 1963 NFL Championship.
The Bears defeated the New York Giants 14-10 in a defensive struggle at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
In 1965, the Bears added two of the greatest players in NFL history — running back Gale Sayers and middle linebacker Dick Butkus.
Allen coached Butkus and the Bears nearly returned to the NFL Championship that season, falling short by one-and-a-half games to the Green Bay Packers, a team in the midst of a dynasty during the 1960s.
After serving as an assistant coach and later as defensive coordinator since 1958, Allen agreed to become head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.
George Halas, the man who founded the NFL in Canton, Ohio, in 1919, refused to let Allen go because he still had a contract to coach the Bears. Halas took Allen to court, claiming breach of contract.
Halas won the court case, then immediately let Allen go, stating that he had made his point about the sanctity of a contract and how it must be honored. Allen became one of the best head coaches of his era, saving foundering franchises with the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins.
One wonders what Ganassi will do if he wins his court case against Palou. So far, Palou has continued to coexist with his crew members and teammates and fight it out on the track in the battle for the championship.
But will this same cohesiveness exist if a court orders Palou to return to Ganassi in 2023?
Could Palou decide he would rather sit out the season, if he is denied the chance to join McLaren?
And, is Palou in IndyCar, Formula 1 or even Formula E in 2023? What happens to Rosenqvist? Is he driving for Arrow McLaren SP in IndyCar or McLaren in Formula E?
Those questions, and more, will be determined once the court case between Ganassi and Palou is completed.