Should IndyCar Champion Alex Palou make the switch to Formula 1, a previous F1 World Champion believes he’ll perform at the top level.
Rumours are swirling that IndyCar Champion Alex Palou may be eyeing up a switch to Formula 1, although it won’t be with McLaren – the Spaniard having reneged on a deal to race with the company’s IndyCar team for 2024.
With Palou making the decision of his own accord to turn his back on the deal he agreed to with McLaren, he and his management have parted ways.
Mario Andretti: Alex Palou is a special talent
2021 IndyCar Champion Alex Palou is the runaway leader in the 2023 standings, and is likely to be racking up another title to his name by the conclusion of this season.
The Spaniard is one of McLaren’s F1 reserve drivers for this year, and had been a likely candidate for their mandatory ‘rookie’ FP1 outings over the final races of 2023, having taken part in FP1 at last year’s United States Grand Prix with the Woking-based squad.
With Palou taking matters into his own hands, and his immediate future now unclear, one man who believes the Spaniard undoubtedly has the talent to make it in Formula 1 is American racing legend Mario Andretti.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, Andretti praised the versatility and talent of the IndyCar star.
“I’ll tell you, [Alex] is certainly some special talent, no question about it,” he said.
“You can always gauge by who the team-mates are, and his team-mates are top-level as well. He’s showing something very special, in every race.
“He’s very versatile also, you take him to the difficulty of a specialty street course, you take him on an oval… you take them anywhere, and it seems like he adapts to it.
“He’s right at the very top, no matter where you take him. So he is a valuable talent for any team, in my opinion. He will do very well, wherever he goes, including Formula 1.”
‘F1 Super Licence rules need adjustments’
Last year, Red Bull were set on signing another IndyCar star as Colton Herta was their first priority as a replacement for the departing Pierre Gasly. But the FIA’s Super Licence requirements meant that Herta had insufficient qualifying points for a licence – meaning he was forced to remain in IndyCar.
The American series has low weighting on the FIA’s structure, although the issue wouldn’t be a barrier for Palou’s arrival into the sport – his championship win in 2021 enabling him to score enough qualifying points for an F1 super licence.
But Andretti believes the licence structure does need tweaking in order to properly reflect the true skill level of IndyCar.
“I would love to see that,” he said.
“You cannot disregard the IndyCar Series, it’s got to be higher level than even Formula 2.
“You’ve got to remember that the driver is more of a premium in an IndyCar Series, because of the fact that the cars are pretty much the same – everybody’s driving a Mercedes, everybody’s driving a Red Bull.
“When you have a spec series, yeah, there are nuances. But, at the same time, you can see the confidence that even [former F1 driver] Romain Grosjean has, because he feels that he’s driving the same thing as anyone else. So that’s my point. The drivers are a little more of a premium in that respect.
“It’s about tweaks and everything else. But the margins are much closer, so I think we should really evaluate the capability of the drivers themselves in IndyCar and, if somebody’s continuously and always at the top of the sheets – whether it’s qualifying or in a race – there’s something to be paying attention to. And Alex Palou is certainly one of them.”
Colton Herta ‘a missed opportunity’ for F1
While the ship sailed on Herta’s potential move to F1, at least for now, Andretti believes the American driver also has the mettle to fare well in F1 and that the licencing structure meant it was something of a missed opportunity for F1.
“Maybe so. Colton did a really very good test with McLaren some time ago and he really showed really well,” he said.
“Looking at his capability on the road courses, and so forth, he’s strong. They’ve had some issues within the team and so on but I think Colton would do well in F1. But again, it’s all a matter of points for the Super Licence.
“In that respect, he’s lacking somewhat as far as the points go, but I guess all that can be fixed somehow.”