IndyCar teams have been put on high alert by the news that Felix Rosenqvist reportedly hasn’t signed a contract for 2023 with McLaren Racing, despite the team announcing he had in June.
On Thursday a key player in the silly season, Rinus VeeKay, took himself out of the market by signing an extension with his current team Ed Carpenter Racing.
He appeared to be the last race winning driver available on the market but the revelation that Rosenqvist has not signed a physical contract – first reported by Racer and now independently verified by The Race’s own sources – has reignited the driver market.
A June 23 press release from the team had read: “McLaren Racing has signed a multi-year deal with Felix Rosenqvist to remain on the team’s driver roster from 2023 and beyond”.
In that press release Rosenqvist was quoted as saying: “I’m excited and grateful to be given this opportunity to explore the new options available to utilise my experience to help McLaren start 2023 on the strongest possible footing.”
The June announcement didn’t confirm exactly where Rosenqvist would race as McLaren has also launched a Formula E team and in the background it was working on signing reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou.
That has since blown up in dramatic fashion, with Ganassi announcing it had extended Palou’s contract and then McLaren announcing its belief it had actually signed him only hours later.
The outcome of that saga is currently set to be decided in court although it’s still technically possible the teams could come to a private agreement.
Rosenqvist is the only driver who has won in both IndyCar and Formula E, so it’s easy to see why Zak Brown and McLaren wanted to keep him in the fold. Announcing that Rosenqvist would remain part of McLaren in some way would also deflect other teams away from pursuing him.
Sources suggest Rosenqvist was content for McLaren to make the announcement in June, and the fact that he has talked about being “committed” to the team for next year since then underlines his acceptance of the decision to announce a longer relationship even though an actual contract is now believed to not have been in place.
Perhaps he was not concerned with other teams thinking he was off the market because he has been so vocal about how happy he is with the team working on the #7 car and wanted to stay.
He’s been careful not to discuss details of his contract on the record with the media.
Last month during the Iowa weekend Rosenqvist said: “I really enjoy working with these guys and girls. I think it’s always hard, from the emotional side, to think that you might leave them, leave your workplace.
“Because I think as you grow older, you’ve kind of learned that that’s everything you want, you want the place that you’re happy to work with the people.
“It’s less about what championship or which sponsor. I think it’s all about having that group, which I think I finally have now.
“That’s obviously hard, but we’ll see where it goes. Obviously, I can only do one thing and that’s just push and we’ll see where we land.”
Whether the relationship with McLaren has soured amid a complicated situation whereby he still doesn’t know where he’ll be racing in 2023 – and how the Palou situation has been handled and impacted that – is unknown.
The news emerging does appear to be at a convenient time given everything that’s happening in the driver market.
Rosenqvist has admirers in other teams, too.
Back in July in Toronto, Graham Rahal made unprovoked comments about Rosenqvist, praising the driver and saying he hoped he would stay in IndyCar next year.
Asked about those comments in at the next race Rosenqvist said: “I really appreciate that, it was really touching to hear that from him after the race.
“Obviously I’m committed to McLaren Racing right now but I really appreciate it.”
We know now that that McLaren commitment is not binding at least on paper, so Rahal Letterman Lanigan might be an option for Rosenqvist if he’s interested in testing the market.
Although the team will be desperate to keep rookie ace Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey is on a long-term deal despite a poor run of form that leaves him 22nd in the championship and Rahal himself would have to retire to free up his car.
Andretti Autosport might be a more obvious choice for Rosenqvist as it will enter 2023 with 22-year-old Colton Herta as its most experienced IndyCar driver.
Rosenqvist debuted in the same year as Herta, but at least combines similar longer-term motorsport experience like Andretti’s Romain Grosjean with that more extensive IndyCar experience.
Andretti does not technically have a seat available at present. Along with Herta and Grosjean, it has signed Kyle Kirkwood to replace Alexander Rossi (another McLaren recruit). Its fourth car is occupied by Devlin DeFrancesco, who was signed as a rookie this season on a multi-year deal, but there has been intense speculation recently over whether he will continue next year.
Every other team on the grid that has a seat is likely to be in touch with Rosenqvist now too, including Juncos which is expanding to another car alongside Callum Ilott next year although it might be more tempted to bring a driver with budget in, like AJ Foyt Racing.
Losing Rosenqvist entirely would also create a driver market headache for McLaren in Formula E, where it is understood to have signed former Audi racer Rene Rast for one seat but would be short of options for the other if it cannot slot Rosenqvist in.
Given Rosenqvist has made his preference for staying in IndyCar over returning to Formula E clear, the chances of him being on the 2023 FE grid now appear near zero if McLaren has no contractual way of ensuring it.
This news also comes in the same week that McLaren has become involved in a bombshell Formula 1 driver market situation, as it is thought to be the alternative team that Alpine reserve Oscar Piastri’s management has done a deal with.
Alpine announced Piastri as a 2023 driver following the shock loss of Fernando Alonso to Aston Martin, only for Piastri to publicly declare two hours later that he had not signed a deal and would not be racing for the team.
A Contract Recognition Board ruling is now likely to decide that row, with Piastri’s McLaren place also depending on the team having found a way to part company with Daniel Ricciardo in a situation where the option to end the deal early is on Ricciardo’s side, not McLaren’s.
In the space of two months, McLaren has announced signing two drivers that it might not actually end up having in 2023 depending on the outcome of Rosenqvist’s future and Palou’s court case.
It’s a truly bizarre situation.
The Race has contacted McLaren Racing for comment.