RACING

Rosenqvist makes McLaren’s driver puzzle even more complicated

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Felix Rosenqvist may have been a forgotten man last week as his McLaren team announced the signing of Alex Palou just after IndyCar champions’ current team Chip Ganassi Racing confirmed it had extended his contract .

Although McLaren did not specify where Palou would race, IndyCar seems to be the obvious option, apparently sending Rosenqvist back to Formula E.

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McLaren has signed Rosenqvist for next year but CEO Zak Brown has not said where he will race. And if McLaren is successful in securing Palou, its expanded three-car IndyCar lineup is complete as it has already signed Alexander Rossi from Andretti Autosport and extended Pato O’Ward’s contract.

But when asked by The Race if the Palou news made it more likely that he would return to Formula E to lead McLaren’s debut there, Rosenqvist’s response was punchy.

“From what we hear, it sounds like Alex didn’t… I mean, I don’t know what’s going on there,” Rosenqvist replied.

“At the moment, it doesn’t look like he’s going to run at all. Yeah, it’s up to lawyers and all.

“Honestly, it’s none of my business.

“I honestly don’t think it really changed anything.

“This whole thing was called off months ago. I didn’t know all the details that I know now, but nothing has really changed.

“I think if Zak was sure I was going to FE, he would have said so already.

“I will take this chance. If there is a chance for me to be here next year, I will try to prove that I can do it.

It seems that Rosenqvist and Palou’s career paths are constantly linked as Palou replaced Rosenqvist at Ganassi for 2021 and quickly won the title.

But think again if you think Palou is set to do the same at McLaren.

Palou will not race at all next year is not a result that has been regularly discussed, and something that is an extremely attractive possibility for next season.

Ganassi still claims he has Palou under contract and will race there next year, so there’s no easy answer as to what happens next, but Rosenqvist is doing everything right.

Last weekend he scored his first podium with Arrow McLaren SP. In 2021 he struggled to adapt to the handling of the car, which his teammate O’Ward had described as one of the fastest but most difficult cars to drive on the grid.

Refocused for 2022, Rosenqvist has been much better himself and if not for a few small mistakes and some team mistakes too, he could well have been in the top eight in points. Especially if he had added a podium at Mid-Ohio last time, where he was racing before an engine problem.

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A fourth at the Indianapolis 500 was also impressive and came in the middle of a four-top-10 streak that could have been six with Mid-Ohio not spoiling it.

It’s all happening thanks to a relaxed Rosenqvist who is more comfortable with the car this year and the mid-season improvements from his pit crew, who have struggled.

“It was very late,” added Rosenqvist on the podium.

“We had so many good races. Even last year when we had such a year of struggle, we still had times when we fought for wins. Just things eventually happen.

“Mid-Ohio was pretty much a perfect race until we had a technical issue that ended our race. Texas earlier this year. So many races. Obviously I don’t like to say what would have could happen.

“I think everyone in the team was ready for at least a podium, and also a win coming here hopefully soon. Yeah, really, really good.

“Really good just for the guys on the car to give them something more than P4 or P5.”

Craig Hampson designed Rosenqvist and certainly helped this year, while Chevrolet’s handling upgrades were a welcome surprise for 2022 and helped Rosenqvist in particular, although there were some initial teething issues.

Qualifying was also a step up as he sits in the top five in terms of average starting position in the series.

He started eighth in Toronto and moved up two places early in the race. But the focal point of his run was passing Rossi as he was battling for a top five finish at the time – a move that ended with Rossi in the wall.

Rossi stopped blaming Rosenqvist for the incident and Rosenqvist didn’t believe it was his fault saying “he hit my pontoon, probably lost a wheel and hit the wall”.

“Obviously I don’t want to see him in the wall, but it was just a tough pass, a tough run,” he added.

“There was no penalty, so I think that explains everything.”

This allowed him to work forward and fight Colton Herta – who was struggling with a torn balaclava and hair in his eyes – for second place, getting straight to the back of Herta but unable to move. Herta graciously admitted he thought Rosenqvist would be fine if there were a few more laps in the race.

Ultimately, results like this can’t hurt Rosenqvist’s quest for his preferred option of staying in IndyCar rather than moving to Formula E, where he’s also a race winner.

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His McLaren contract confirms where he wants to be, although his result has inspired a passionate endorsement from Graham Rahal – who has said he would love to sign Rosenqvist for Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s 2023 IndyCar lineup if he could.

It’s something Rosenqvist addressed when asked if he could still race for another team in the series next year.

“That’s entirely a question for Zak,” Rosenqvist said.

“I made it clear that I’m very happy with the team. I think it shows, a great group. I think we have worked hard over the past two years to build a very strong team.

“We have a good strategy, good pit stops. I think I’m able to get the most out of the car most weekends now.

“I think if you had asked me the question at the end of last year it would obviously have been a different answer. But right now I’m just very happy where I am. I think I would be crazy if I said I wanted to go somewhere else.

“You should always be grateful for every opportunity you have.”

His recent performances have certainly given Brown a headache, or if Palou is to be sidelined for a while, a wonderful option going forward.

Along with his pace, Rosenqvist brings a strong but not overwhelming charisma to the team. You never hear a bad word about Rosenqvist or his work ethic on the team and it’s clear everyone on the Indianapolis side loves having him on board.

Maybe they still have a chance to keep him.

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