The biggest ongoing story in international motorsport is the fate of the McLaren F1 race seat currently occupied by Daniel Ricciardo. The political wrangling involved for drivers to secure a place in the Formula 1 championship for the upcoming season, is one of my favorite things. And this year has already delivered in spades. There has been transatlantic intrigue, fabricated driver quotes, multiple contract disputes, and a civil lawsuit in U.S. federal court with tweets submitted as evidence. Let’s recap what has happened so far as we quickly approach an answer to the question of who will drive alongside Lando Norris at McLaren in 2023.
In February, Lando Norris signed a contract extension to remain at McLaren through the 2025 season. The extension is reportedly valued at $96.6 million and featured no get-out clauses. Long-term commitments of this kind are a rarity in Formula One, but the times, they are a-changing. Similar deals have been made over the past year to protect young phenoms from being poached by other teams, Charles Leclerc with Ferrari, and Max Verstappen with Red Bull.
The extension also meant that Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo would be put under immediate pressure if McLaren hinted at a potential driver move. The British team didn’t take long to make a big hint. In March, a week before the 2022 F1 season’s first race, McLaren signed Colton Herta to a testing and development contract. The promising 20-year-old American at Andretti Autosport was a race into his fourth IndyCar season. Though, Herta wasn’t the only IndyCar contender for the season.
During the last week of May, McLaren resigned Pato O’Ward to remain as its own IndyCar team through the 2025 season. As a part of the contract, the 23-year-old Mexican driver will get some form of F1 seat time. O’Ward has finished within the top five positions in the series championship in all three seasons he has raced for McLaren. Despite having garnered impressive results, McLaren seemingly wanted to land a bigger fish.
On July 12th, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that it was exercising a contract option to retain the reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou for the 2023 season. Hours later, McLaren announced that it signed Palou for a to-be-confirmed McLaren Racing program. This was also complemented by a string of posts on Twitter by Palou stating that he had no intention of driving for Ganassi in 2023. Two weeks later, Ganassi filed a civil suit against the 25-year-old Spaniard. Zak Brown, McLaren Racing CEO, has stated that the team believed Palou was a free agent and had no intention of buying out the remainder of Palou’s contract from Ganassi.
With the uncertainty surrounding Palou’s contractual status, McLaren has had to move on to what seems to be the definite choice for Ricciardo’s replacement. 2021 F2 champion Oscar Piastri is spending this season as the reserve driver at Alpine F1 Team. With no vacancy at Alpine, Piastri was looking for an opportunity to race in 2023 and reportedly nearing an agreement to join McLaren. Simultaneously, Aston Martin announced that two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso would be leaving Alpine to replace retiring four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
In the chaos, Alpine announced that Piastri would replace Alonso at the team for the 2023 season. Just like Palou, the Australian posted on Twitter that he had no intention of racing for Alpine. Though, McLaren has not officially announced that Piastri has signed with the team. Recent reports have claimed that the British team has informed Daniel Ricciardo that he would be racing in 2023 and that he’ll be replaced by his compatriot, but no official statement has been made.
Only time will time who will actually get to be Lando Norris’ teammate next season. Though, that answer would still leave so many other questions unanswered. What will be the outcome of the Ganassi-Palou lawsuit, and where will he race in 2023? Who will Alpine and Ganassi sign to fill their vacancies if they can’t retain their poached drivers? What will come of the outgoing, in more ways than one, Daniel Ricciardo? ‘Tis the season to be silly.