NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Though IndyCar’s biggest contract squabble involves another driver and team, it’s become such a distraction for Felix Rosenqvist and Arrow McLaren SP, it apparently now is impacting race results.
Rosenqvist, who admits his future depends on the battle over the services of Alex Palou, said a team meeting was held this week to address a hugely disappointing ninth July 30 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Rosenqvist’s No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet started on pole position after outpacing the field by nearly three 10ths of a second in qualifying but then led only seven laps because of malfunctioning brakes.
“We didn’t do a great job in the race,” Rosenqvist said Friday after turning the second-fastest lap in the opening practice for the Music City Grand Prix. “ We had an issue with the brakes, they were dragging pretty much. Not the whole race, but from time to time they were dragging. It cost us the race pretty much. At least a podium would have been expected from that race the way it went. We were just like a sitting duck on the straights.
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“That’s a bad thing. I don’t know the exact explanation, but there was something going on inside of the caliper or something that wasn’t right. We had a meeting. I think everyone obviously is a bit tired after these long stretches of races. A doubleheader in Iowa, then straight into Indy GP, straight here. People are obviously tired. We get that.
“We just had a meeting to go through like is there anything we can do, something we need to address. We have a good car. We want to keep getting those results this year. I think it was a good meeting. It wasn’t finger pointing or anything. It was getting the group together, talking about it. Like we haven’t done good enough in certain areas, we need to address them so we can get some podiums.”
The problem for Rosenqvist, 30, and his team is so much has been out of their hands since July 12.
Meanwhile, Rosenqvist, who re-signed with McLaren in June, and his team members are left waiting. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said Rosenqvist would be ticketed for Formula E next season if the team chooses to fill its new third seat in IndyCar with another driver alongside Pato O’Ward (who went through his own contract issues with McLaren before an extension in May) and Alexander Rossi.
During the team meeting this past week, Rosenqivst said the sticky situation was the elephant in the room.
“It’s mainly distracting for the team, for the engineers, mechanics,” he said. “They’re all asking questions. They’re part of this team as much as I am. Obviously without the driver, it’s a big part of what makes their day. They want to know, are they going to continue with me next year? What’s going to happen?
“It’s not the optimal case. I think we’ve done a good job focusing, but we had a run of mechanical failures, a bit of slipups here and there. I’m sure these things don’t help. For now we got together a couple days ago at the shop and said, ‘Let’s focus on the details here’ and try to use the performance we have right now to do some good finishes for the rest of the season, then everything else will pan out in time.”
Asked to address his contract situation Friday, Rosenqvist said, “That’s between me and Zak, to be honest. I prefer not to talk about contracts. That’s why they’re contracts because they’re made for you and the other signing party. It’s not for the public to know.”
But if a situation unfolded where he is let out of an IndyCar ride with McLaren, would he pursue other opportunities?
“That we will see,” Rosenqvist said.
If all things could be equal, the Swede naturally would prefer to stay in IndyCar with Arrow McLaren SP.
Though he remains winless since his lone victory at Road America in July 2020, Rosenqvist is enjoying his finest overall season since his rookie campaign in 2019. He has a career-best two poles and average starting position of 8.5, ranking ninth in the championship through 13 of 17 races.
Aside from an early engine failure at Mid-Ohio (which ruined a fourth-place starting position) and a crash at Iowa, he has finished in the top 10 of every race the past three months (including a fourth in the Indy 500) while meshing well in his first full season with engineer Craig Hampson.
“As I say, we had a good run last couple of races,” Rosenqvist said. “I feel happy working with my engineer, my mechanics. Obviously it’s another car coming to the team next year. I think it’s all depending on the Palou case what’s going to happen with me.
“But, yeah, that’s all I’m focused on right now. I’m just trying to win the race. I think we’ve been close a couple times here. Just focus on doing well, winning races. That’s pretty much all I can do. For the Formula E stuff, I mean, I think that’s kind of secondary at this point. Mainly just focusing on what I’m doing here now, try not to get distracted by what’s going on in the background.”
But that’s easier said than done – particularly when every day seemingly brings a new surreal episode. This past week, McLaren mirrored the Palou situation in Formula One, reportedly agreeing to a deal with Oscar Piastri as the F2 champion was announced as Alpine’s driver for 2023 (Rosenqvist called it “a shock to see”).
On Thursday night in a charity ping pong tournament organized by Josef Newgarden, Rosenqvist played a few feet apart from Palou in a metaphorical intertwining of two careers that could end up bouncing in any direction.
It all can seem a little absurd, but Rosenqivst said he accepts what he can’t control while conceding the situation is “not optimal for our team and affects people in the organization. It’s not good.” His time in the McLaren engineering room after practice Friday was interrupted by being requested in the media center.
“Obviously it’s always complicated,” he said. “Half of these things don’t concern me at all. You read stuff. You also don’t know what’s true or not. There’s obviously a lot of rumors, people that think they know what’s going on. What’s actually the truth, that’s only the people involved that know.
“Is it very different? Yes. Like we’ve never seen a case like this that’s going on right now. Yeah, at least you guys get something to write about That’s a good thing in the end. As I say, as long as it’s not distracting us too much, I think we’re good. I’m just going to focus on what concerns me, and the rest is kind of pointless, to be honest.”
One thing that Rosenqvist knows for certain?
His under more pressure to be a professional amid the chaos to deliver results – and he’s learning that he actually thrives under the gun.
“When you don’t know what you’re going to do, it’s always important more to perform,” he said. “That’s just a fact. I think I respond well to that. I always have pressure, but I feel like I probably stepped up a little bit since things have become unclear. That’s a good thing.”
He paused to smile.
“Maybe I need to be in this situation all the time.”