The two teams that should have red-hot Alex Palou on their F1 2024 radar

Sam Cooper
Alex Palou celebrates a win. Detroit, MI, United States of America. June 2023,

Alex Palou celebrates a win. Detroit, MI, United States of America. June 2023,

With another win last weekend, Alex Palou is emerging as the lead IndyCar candidate for an F1 seat.

The IndyCar to F1 road is not one that is all that well travelled in recent years but it has produced some championship-winning drivers in the past. Jacques Villeneuve was racing in CART before his move to Williams. Mario Andretti also had IndyCar experience before his switch to F1.

So while the FIA may deem the IndyCar a lesser competition in terms of superlicence points, the general consensus is that drivers who survive Stateside should be able to do similar in Formula 1.

It is a theory that F1 teams themselves have subscribed to.

McLaren, under Zak Brown’s leadership, have given tests to a number of IndyCar drivers while Red Bull tried to campaign the FIA to allow Colton Herta, who was missing the required superlicence points, to replace Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri seat.

Herta’s star continues to rise but there seems now to be a clear emerging talent who could make the breakthrough into Formula 1… and that is Alex Palou.

From Japan to IndyCar champion

The Barcelona-born Spaniard is certainly well travelled when it comes to his racing experience. Having started out in the Euroformula Open Championship, he moved up to GP3 in 2015.

He would first leave Europe in 2017 to move to Japan before he joined the IndyCar Championship with Dale Coyne Racing in 2020.

A 16th place finish in his rookie season meant few would have predicted what came next as he moved across to Chip Ganassi and won the Championship, defeating Josef Newgarden by 38 points.

The title win was followed by P5 in 2022 but the 26-year-old has already established himself as the favourite for this year’s crown with a strong start to the season.

Last weekend, he reeled in pole sitter Herta to win at the Road America circuit in Wisconsin and secure his third triumph of the season, giving him a 74-point lead at the top of the table and should he continue in this vein, he will become the joint-third most successful European in IndyCar history.

Some in F1 may look down their nose at IndyCar but a double champion in such a fiercely competitive series would be difficult to ignore.

Alex Palou has experience in the ‘pinnacle of motorsport’ F1

Like many drivers not currently in the series, Palou has made his feelings towards F1 known but his desire to join the series appears to not be all consuming.

He told Autosport last year that F1 was “ the pinnacle of motorsport” but said his focus was still on winning IndyCar races.

“I don’t think about it too much,” he said. “Obviously I’m aware that F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and that’s why I’ve decided to accept the possibility of joining a team, even if it’s as a test driver.

“But at the same time my job is to win races, and if I hadn’t won IndyCar I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity of F1, so I think the mentality I have to have is the same: to keep trying to win every race.”

That opportunity he referenced came at McLaren where he and fellow IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward tested the MCL35M as part of their Testing of Previous Cars programme.

His first experience came in his home region of Barcelona in 2022 before a subsequent test at the Red Bull Ring. Later that same year, he made his free practice debut replacing Daniel Ricciardo in Austin.

His performances were rewarded with a reserve driver spot for the current season after McLaren had attempted to sign him for their IndyCar team.

As much as his focus remains on IndyCar, he did admit that “I’m in an amusement park every day, so if there’s a bigger one and I get a ticket to get in, I’m not going to say no” so where could he realistically go?

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Which F1 team could Alex Palou join?

The obvious answer to that question is McLaren with Palou already part of their ecosystem but he may have already hit a ceiling of what can realistically be achieved.

With Lando Norris signed until the end of 2025 and with rookie Oscar Piastri on board until the end of 2024, the McLaren seats are full and should Norris move, it would be a big risk for McLaren to replace their leading driver with a rookie.

Mercedes too look well set for the future and, as with Norris, should Lewis Hamilton move on then the Silver Arrows will look for an established F1 star as replacement. You can consider that to also be true if Charles Leclerc leaves Ferrari.

Sergio Perez may not be pulling up trees but his performances have been good enough for Red Bull not to consider a swap before his contract expires in 2024.

Alpine and Aston Martin seem well set for the future so if Palou does make the move, he may have to settle for a team further down the grid.

Guenther Steiner has too recently had his fingers burned by rookies to make him want to explore that avenue again, regardless of their credentials.

Sauber may be a choice but with Valtteri Bottas signed until 2024 and Zhou Guanyu currently doing enough to see his deal extended, that seems another dead end for Palou.

That leaves two teams and both could realistically be tempted by the 2021 IndyCar champion. The first of those is Williams who appear to already have an issue on their hands with the performance of Logan Sargeant.

After eight races of his rookie season, Sargeant has failed to score a point and has finished in the bottom 25% of the field in all but one grand prix.

Sargeant’s deal is just a year long and it may not hurt the 22-year-old’s future F1 chances to step out for a year and hone his craft with another season in F2.

But the most under pressure seat of the current 20 is that of Nyck de Vries with the rookie seemingly hanging on by a thread.

Helmut Marko has already discussed a possible early departure to the Dutchman’s deal, suggesting rookies Liam Lawson and Ayumu Iwasa were ahead of Ricciardo in the line of succession, but could an outside move be to take a risk on Palou?

The positives are obvious with Red Bull getting an established driver and one that on paper should be able to transition into F1.

The only negative would be the morale damage it could do to their junior team to see another outsider be picked over them for a seat but Red Bull have always been a results business and if Palou is more likely to get more points and could potentially be a successor for Perez in the Red Bull seat, maybe Marko and Christian Horner will try again with an IndyCar prospect.