September 25, 2022

Felix Rosenqvist has a new McLaren Racing contract extension in hand, but it will be a few months before he knows whether he will stay in the NTT IndyCar Series or be rolled out to the team’s new FIA Formula E program in 2023.

It’s a positive – if not slightly confusing – development for the Swede who has regained job security, and after a 30-minute call with McLaren CEO Zak Brown, the situation Rosenqvist is facing, as well as ‘a number of other matters of interest have been clarified. .

“It’s not about Felix,” Brown told RACER. “I’m very comfortable with Felix being an IndyCar or Formula E driver. And the decision has nothing to do with seeing how Felix does for the rest of the season, because I think he’s totally found his form this year, and while some results haven’t fallen on him, his pace has been impressive. Really the driving factor is that I want to bring together the best driver teams in all my racing series And Felix is ​​in a unique position as a race winner in IndyCar and Formula E.

“So really what’s going to lead to where he lands is who his team-mate will be in the other racing series. In other words, what’s the best driver combination that puts the best teams in Formula 1 , IndyCar, Formula E and Extreme E on the grid. And with Felix I have a guy I know can win IndyCar races and a guy I know can win Formula E races. So now what I’m waiting for is who’s the best other Formula E driver I can potentially get, who’s the best other IndyCar driver I can potentially get, and what does the combination of Felix and of that other driver who gives me the best lineup of Formula E and IndyCar drivers?”

There are a few drivers who might get the green light to take over Rosenqvist’s No. 7 Chevy AMSP, but as the silly season begins to wind down, the list of intriguing free agents is rapidly shrinking. Considering how popular he’s become since joining the team in 2021, everyone from top to bottom at AMSP – including chairman Taylor Kiel – have made their wishes known on who they want to drive alongside. Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi next season.

“I have Taylor saying, ‘I want Felix next year,'” Brown continued. “And I have Ian James, who’s going to lead our Formula E team and saying, ‘I want Felix Rosenquist next year.’ So I’m going to be unpopular with one of my team leaders And that’s why we chose to make the announcement the way we did because we don’t have clarity on the direction yet. But one thing was for sure: we love Felix and are super, super happy to have him in either team. That’s why it was McLaren Racing who signed him, to eliminate all the market speculation and any distractions as to who he might be driving, because the answer is now McLaren.

Rosenqvist is a race winner in IndyCar and Formula E (in Berlin in 2017, above), and Zak Brown says his priority is to make the most of the Swede’s versatility when deciding where he will compete next year . Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Pictures

“It just gives me a bit more time to work on my other scenarios, which will then help me build the most competitive IndyCar and Formula E team. Because each series is extremely important, I highlight the best driver teams, and Felix happens to be in a unique position where he’s probably the only guy I can think of who’s won in those two series.

With the IndyCar season due to end on September 11 and the next Formula E championship due to begin in December, Brown has a limited window to work and decide on drivers for the all-electric series and who will complete the expanded effort of three AMSP cars. .

“I’ll say months, not weeks, but not months until we find out about Felix,” he said. “He is keen to understand where he is going to lead, obviously. Look how early we announced Rossi. I believe in stability and preparation, so I want to reach the conclusion as much as everyone else. But sitting close to where I am right now in silly season, I think we’ll use the [August] summer break in Formula 1, even if it has nothing to do with Formula 1, to get closer to the direction in which we are heading.

Brown is known to have recently run races with two of the NTT IndyCar Series’ top drivers to see if either was interested or able to get into the No. 7 Chevy. Defending champion Alex Palou and six-time champion Scott Dixon, both drivers for Chip Ganassi Racing, are unavailable for 2023, which could work in Rosenqvist’s favor.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, another free agent whose talent and form at AMSP has been discussed with his management team, is contractually unable to negotiate until August 1. After VeeKay – at least in the IndyCar paddock – there are very few known drivers. to excite McLaren in the short term.

To find out who will drive the No. 7, Brown will have to decide whether to treat 2023 as an interim year – perhaps in favor of Rosenqvist – while he waits to get his hands on an IndyCar champion for 2024 and beyond, or if he’ll go ahead and hand the car keys to an intriguing new prospect.

Ganassi has managed to keep Palou and Dixon out of McLaren’s reach – until now. Motorsport pictures

Overstating the obvious, the calls to Palou, Dixon and others would not have been made if the AMSP had been installed on Rosenqvist. It’s too early to tell whether Brown will play short or long in the coming months, but with a deeper pool of high-value targets hitting the market in just over a year, it’s hard. to see Rosenqvist being installed as a one-year multi-solution in IndyCar.

“Getting top drivers is never easy, and they’re always in high demand,” Brown said. “And I have to touch a certain caliber of driver that I’m convinced you can win races and win championships, whether it’s an experienced driver or a driver who I think is capable of it. there are guys in IndyCar and then there are guys who come from outside of IndyCar who are doing very well so I would say it’s a combination of watching people inside of IndyCar and people outside of IndyCar as IndyCar prospects.

Those who have watched Netflix’s Drive To Survive know that when it comes to contentious relationships, Mercedes F1’s Toto Wolff and Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner are far from friendly. If and when IndyCar gets its version of DTS, Brown and Ganassi might just put them to shame.

In the paddock, their active dislike for each other is no secret, and despite frequent fishing expeditions through Ganassi’s driver ranks – which includes a run at Dixon in 2018 and signing Rosenqvist away of Ganassi in 2020 – Brown says he’s not determined to make Chip’s pilots his own.

“He has great drivers,” he said. “Just like Roger Penske, just like Michael Andretti. We are always looking for the best drivers and teams like Ganassi, Penske and Andretti have great drivers, as do other teams. He’s got great drivers, but so are we, just as he made some big aggressive approaches to Pato, which I fully expected, and it was fair game. There’s a reason you need to lock up your superstars for the long haul.

“We are all very competitive. And it’s our job as team leaders to have a very good relationship with our riders and to protect the riders you want in the long run. Ganassi went after Pato, which neither surprises nor offends me. And as we announced recently, we locked up Pato for a long time, just like I did with [McLaren F1’s] Lando Norris. When you have superstar drivers, letting them get too close to the end of their contract period puts you in a vulnerable position. As I fully expect, whether it’s Penske or Andretti, or Ferrari or Mercedes in Formula 1, they’re looking for the best talent possible. And that’s why you have to make sure that when you have superstars, you keep them out of the market for as long as you can.

AMSP’s biggest offseason acquisition came from Team Penske race engineer Gavin Ward, the former Red Bull engineer who won the 2019 IndyCar championship with Josef Newgarden. Less than happy with the loss, Penske enforced a lengthy non-compete clause in the Canadiens’ contract. With Ward’s ‘gardening leave’ set to expire at the end of June, the rising squad will take on their new technical director while O’Ward (fourth) and Rosenqvist (eighth) push for the title as the second half of the season s ‘announcement. .

“It starts next month,” Brown confirmed.

The final part of the team-related conversation was about AMSP’s next IndyCar driver and whether McLaren, which currently doesn’t have a major factory sportscar program, would allow Rossi – who does part of the 2021 Rolex 24 At Daytona winning team – to compete in non-confrontational endurance races.

“Obviously we would be sensitive to Alex driving for direct competitors, but just like Pato did at Daytona this year and Felix did, we’re always open,” Brown said. “We are runners, we know runners like to run. So as long as we feel the other activities aren’t conflicting or hurting, we’re still open minded for them to run, so if Alex wanted to do Daytona or whatever, and it doesn’t takes anything away from his IndyCar business, we’d be inclined to let him.