Álex Palou: “I broke up with McLaren because there was no real opportunity in F1”
Álex Palou is a happy man. He has just achieved his second IndyCar title, secured his future with the best team in America with which to try to finally conquer the 500 Miles and with another great ‘championship’ ahead of him: fatherhood. After celebrating the second crown in Portland, he attends MARCA… from Monterey, where this weekend he will receive his Cup and his winner’s ring. And with many things to comment on, everything that awaits him.
A: Thank you very much. It has been a very good year… and we can still finish it better, also on a special circuit like Laguna Seca. I’m very happy that I was able to finish it before the last race.
Q: How does it feel to be a two-time champion?
A: I don’t have the cup or the ring yet, but I want to have it. I enjoyed this title a little more than the other. So I was too focused on winning and I didn’t enjoy it as much. I had a lot of pressure, I didn’t expect to fight it, and suddenly we found ourselves there. Then I realized that I had not enjoyed that victory as much, and in this one I have done so since day 1. Q: Did you have any doubts about how the team would go at the start of the season after everything that happened in 2022?
A: We started a bit with a lack of rhythm, which we found from the third or fourth race. Last year obviously affected everything that happened, but this year, as I already expected it would happen again, I was more prepared, and I have handled it much better. I’m happy to have been able to be in this position again.
Q: Then came the five magical races…
A: Those races all came in a row. Winning the first one was a huge boost, then the pole for the Indy 500, which we didn’t expect and gave us more momentum, and we went to Detroit, MId-Ohio and Road America with incredible energy, and it grew one after another. It helped us a lot with confidence and the desire to go for it.
Always going for victories is what has allowed us to win before the end of the seasonQ: Is the Indy 500 the thorn in the side of the year?
A: At 500 you always have a very open mind, there have been many people who have fought to win and have escaped due to things that you cannot control. For us in 2021 it escaped us because of one thing that I could have controlled, fighting better with Helium, but in 2023 I couldn’t do anything. VeeKay came, he took us by and… you can laugh or cry about it, I did a little of both. We did the work that needed to be done and the recovery we made was incredible.
Q: And then, we saw a Palou who wanted to win everything…
A: It was true, we were going to win every weekend. In 2021, we had points more in mind, in the positions we needed. Since we had margin this year, we were able to go more aggressively into all the races. In Toronto, it went well because it was our day, but in Nashville it may have gotten out of hand. But in the end the strategies, the mentality and the way of driving were to go for victories and perhaps that is what has allowed us to win before the end of the season. Q: And beating the champion…
A: The strategies can be good, but you have to go fast, the car work well, the pit stops … We have known how to maximize our options every weekend, and it has been noticed. In Portland, I wanted to go more or less on Dixon’s same tire strategy, but I didn’t want to stay behind him and follow him the entire race. I believed we had the pace to try to win the race and that was the best way to secure the title. A year as good as the one we’ve had might have been a bit bittersweet to win it by finishing tenth. Thus, winning with a victory and celebrating it twice is much better.
Q: Will you run this same way next year?
A: One hundred percent.
With the great year we’ve had, it would have been a little bittersweet to win by finishing tenth. Winning and celebrating twice is much better
Q: This 2023 has not been just IndyCar. Also, F1…
A: It has been incredible to experience it, both on the track and off. I have learned a lot from the way F1 works and I think we have been able to take advantage of the opportunities, especially the free practice sessions at COTA. The private tests have helped me in all aspects as a driver. I will always take it with me.
Q: Did it give you special confidence to see yourself at a good level with Formula 1, a different car?
A: It always helps when you get into a different car and still be competitive. At COTA, with only one hour, we were able to be with them when we had the same tires, it helped me a lot. But it helped me when I first compared myself to Scott [Dixon]. He is one of the best, if not the best, in Indycar and has raced in other disciplines. Comparing myself to him and being on par with him helped me know that we could be fast here. Q: People want to know what will happen to Álex Palou in 2024… and Chip has already said that you are still with them
A: I already said that everything will be said when I can, but yes, I am very happy here. There are things off the track that have to be fixed before saying anything, when the time is right I will do it. But it’s clear that what Chip said, Chip said…
Q: And the other big question is… what about Palou’s future options in F1? Are they finished without McLaren?
A: The door is never completely closed, obviously, but at the same time I am getting older and if after 2021 and 2023 there has not been a real and good opportunity… it will be difficult for a door to open, because it will be difficult to repeat this. I also didn’t want to wait for the door to open and leave aside what I could really do well, which is IndyCar. I’m happy where I am, if a good opportunity comes in the future – but I think there are few chances – we would take it, but I’m not impatiently waiting for F1 either. The position I have is very privileged, in one of the best teams, with everything I need to fight for races and championships, and it would be difficult to leave.
I didn’t want to wait for the F1 door to open and leave aside what I could really do well, which is IndyCar. Q: Was having that option, to continue in a team and a car with which you have that communion, the key to breaking with Mclaren?
A: More than that, it is because there was no real opportunity in F1. That explains everything. But of course, it also helps to have the best car in IndyCar.
Q: Is returning with Roger Yasukawa [your new representative] a nod to Honda to seek that path to F1 with them?
A: No, it has nothing to do with that. It’s more because of the relationship I have with him, he brought me to the United States together with Honda, but it is not so that a door will open with Honda. If that door had to open, it would be because of having won two IndyCar championships with them, not because of a contact. Q: How is it possible that after such a good season, that door to F1 is not opened even more?
A: The fact is that there aren’t any, it’s reality. There have been many rumors, but no options. If after the year we have had there had been no real options, it will be difficult for there to be any in the future. But I am happy with what we have done, we have given everything, and we have tried to take the opportunities that have been given to us.
Q: So… what does an IndyCar driver have to do to make that jump?
A: I don’t know. Maybe one of the problems with me, and in general, is age. It is difficult to win here at 20 or 21 years old and without super license points you cannot race in F1. That influences. The fact that there are already two Spaniards doesn’t help either, perhaps for an American it is easier. I understand, in the end there are only 20 seats, here there are a few more and the options are greater.
If after the year we have had there had been no real options in F1, it will be difficult for there to be any from now on. Q: It seems that F1 is closed… don’t you have the ‘thing’ of what could have been?
A: No, because when a good door opened for me, I took it, and we took advantage of it very well. Not having taken it would have left me upset, but we tried it, I loved it, it opened another door for us after that … so there is no problem. Here we are, with two Indycar championships.
Q: Zak Brown was hard on you: he said he was disappointed. What did you think of him?
A: I will explain it in the future.
Q: There are people who don’t understand these comings and goings between teams and may think that you haven’t handled it well. What would I say to them?
A: From the outside…and from the inside, it looks pretty confusing. It’s clear, and I understand it. But now I cannot and should not explain this either. In the future I will do it and then there will be people who will understand it… and others who will still not do it. Q: Hybrid cars debut next year. Is it good or bad for you? Because he had the championship in his grasp…
A: It’s good, it’s good. I like changes. It’s something to motivate yourself for, try to get the most out of the other teams, and it will give us drivers another tool to make differences and be able to make overtakes, different strategies… I’m looking forward to it, I’ll try it after Laguna Seca and in post season to test it and evolve it. Q: The bar is high for 2024… How are you going to improve this season?
A: With the 500 you can improve a lot…. For the rest… it is more difficult. That’s why I’m enjoying it so much this year. Last year we only won one race and this year we have done five, but that is not normal. I don’t know when the next victory, championship or year will be so competitive. Every podium tastes like glory, and every victory more so.