McLaren are expecting to be without reserve driver Alex Palou at next weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix as the legal battle between the pair continues.
That is despite Palou having a contractual obligation to be with the team at every grand prix following the conclusion of the IndyCar season, according to McLaren chief executive Zak Brown.
McLaren and Palou are currently embroiled in a legal battle after he rejected a move to the Woking-based squad’s IndyCar operation for 2024, with Brown claiming the Spaniard has a valid contract with McLaren and has already received an advance on his salary for next year.
McLaren’s relationship with Alex Palou in tatters
Palou, who recently secured his second IndyCar crown, is this weekend competing in the final round of the American-based single-seater series at Laguna Seca and had been expected to link up with McLaren in Singapore next week.
The 24-year-old was installed as McLaren’s reserve driver this season after impressing in an FP1 appearance at the 2022 United States GP in Austin, with Palou also participating in a three-day test with the team at the Hungaroring in June alongside Oscar Piastri and long-serving test and development driver Oliver Turvey.
Palou had been expected to land another FP1 outing with McLaren towards the end of this season, but with the relationship between team and driver now in tatters Brown would be surprised if Palou even turned up in Singapore.
According to The Race, he said: “He’s still our reserve driver. So that’s changed, because I don’t think he’s going to show up in Singapore, which he’s obligated to.
“But we have had a couple of different reserve drivers during the year, so we’re now going to have to extend that.”
Brown went on to add that he is “pretty sure” Palou will not appear in Singapore despite McLaren having a hotel booked for him, with the American expressing his disappointment that Palou has made no attempt to contact him since the start of the contract saga.
He added: “It’s pretty surprising, how it’s been handled. There’s what’s happened, but then there’s also how it’s been handled. That’s probably as surprising as anything.”
The breakdown between McLaren and Palou is likely to see fellow IndyCar star and former Red Bull junior Pato O’Ward offered an FP1 shot before the close of 2023, with the 24-year-old planning to be in attendance at four of the final five rounds in Austin, Mexico, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi.
O’Ward, whose links to McLaren stretch back to 2021, previously appeared for the team in first practice at the 2022 season finale in Abu Dhabi.
In the more immediate term, McLaren are able to call upon the services of Mercedes reserve driver Mick Schumacher if either Piastri or team-mate Lando Norris are unable to race in Singapore.
The German, son of seven-time World Champion Michael, took part in a private test with the team at Portimao in July.