One of the main signings this summer has unexpectedly become IndyCar racer Alex Palou. According to internal sources, the Spaniard’s management was in contact with four Formula 1 teams. Until now, Palou follows in the footsteps of Montoya and Villeneuve, who also made a name for themselves in America before going out to conquer the Royal Races. However, despite the obvious parallels, Alex will not be able to repeat the path of the previous knights. And there are reasons for that.
Villeneuve and Montoya prepared intensely for F-1. today this is impossible
The last move to date on the America – Formula 1 route dates back to 2008: multiple Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdet signed a contract with Toro Rosso. And the last to succeed on both sides of the ocean were Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve. Interestingly, Palou’s racing trajectory bears some similarities to the careers of the two aforementioned gentlemen. For example, they all quickly achieved success in America: Montoya took the title in the first season, Villeneuve and Palou in the second.
The very fact of such comparisons already characterizes Alex as a very talented driver. Perhaps, in terms of talent, he is comparable to the younger versions of Villeneuve and Montoya, but it is unlikely that he will be able to repeat the path of the Canadian and Colombian.
Both Jacques and Juan Pablo made their debut in Formula 1 very confidently: Villeneuve came close to winning the first Grand Prix, Montoya fought on an equal footing with Schumacher already in the third race. Here too there were some lucky circumstances.
For example, Villeneuve from the first Grand Prix rode at the pace of his more experienced partner Damon Hill and at the end of the season only slightly lost to the British. However, in the story of Jacques’ brilliant debut, one important detail should not be missed: an extensive test program from Williams.
Arriving in Australia for the first leg of the 1996 season, Villeneuve did not quite fit the classic definition of a rookie. Yes, the Canadian had no competitive experience in F-1, but by then he had already managed to drive more than a thousand kilometers behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. For four months (from November 1995 to February 1996), Villeneuve he trained 3-4 days a week, circling the track behind the wheel of the current Williams car: at first he tested the FW17, closer to the start of the season he switched to FW18. In total, Jacques drove some 10,000 kilometres, roughly the same distance that drivers covered in 10 stages of the F-1 championship (taking all racing sessions into account), and these were just tests.
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For his part, Montoya, unlike Villeneuve, did not take an accelerated course for a young fighter, but he also managed to familiarize himself with the formula technique even before his debut in the Royal Races. In the 1997-1998 seasons, Juan Pablo served as a test driver at Williams, so he still received the training part from him.
As for Palou, the Spaniard doesn’t even come close to such an extensive testing program. Modern Formula 1 sports regulations prohibit spontaneous testing in current cars. Outside of the official stages of the season, teams are only allowed to use live cars in designated sessions: preseason, tire, and postseason testing. In terms of total mileage, all these races don’t come close to Villeneuve and Montoya’s testing schedule, plus Palou will only be able to participate in post-season testing, having already missed the first two sessions. Yes, in theory, Alex will be able to practice on the cars of past years as part of private tests or drive more than a thousand kilometers on the simulator, but, you see, this will not be the same at all.
Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya before the 2001 season
Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Also, admiring the initial successes of Montoya and Villeneuve, we must not forget that they began their career in F-1 as part of elite teams: Juan Pablo started in Williams, which was capable of winning, and Jacques put at his disposal a championship car
Unfortunately, nothing like Palou threatens. Only strangers are interested in Alex, and getting into at least the average McLaren (the Spaniard is in the Orange support program) in the near future will be difficult, only in the event of an emergency exit from Norris , which is unlikely. It will be extremely difficult to issue a spectacular debut in the weak, so gigantic feats should not be expected from Palou in his debut season.
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Without proper preparation, the champions of the American championship failed in F-1
The stories of Villeneuve and Montoya show that it is very possible to succeed on both sides of the ocean, but there are also reverse examples: not all the winners of the US championships managed to shine in Formula 1.
The most recent example (relative to other stories) of such a failure is Sebastien Bourdais. For four years, the Frenchman dominated the Champ Car championship, having issued championship titles poker. In the end, Sebastian attracted the attention of Helmut Marko: the Frenchman was offered the job of fighter pilot for Toro Rosso. The mere fact of signing a 29-year-old driver (and not even an “academic”) to the “homegrown” team already speaks of some kind of recognition by Red Bull.
Unfortunately, Burda did not live up to the expectations placed on it. In 2008, he failed against the background of his teammate Sebastian Vettel, and the following year the Frenchman lost to another Sebastien, the rookie Buemi. Bourdet was so hopeless that Bulls bosses kicked him out midway through the 2009 season.
Sebastien Bourdet and Sebastien Buemi before the 2009 season
Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Here we can say that Bourdet’s example is not indicative, since during the years of his triumph the level of Champ Car was not very high, seriously inferior to IndyCar, however, some champions of the most competitive CART championship traveled a path similar. . Take Cristiano da Matta, for example, who entered F1 a year after his American Series triumph. The Brazilian had a relatively good debut season with Toyota, but the following championship was his last in Formula 1. Against the background of falling results and public criticism of the Toyota team, they decided to part ways with da Matta without waiting for the end of the season.
But still, the main failure in terms of “expectation-reality” was the transfer of Michael Andretti to McLaren. By 1993, the son of the great Mario was considered one of the strongest CART drivers, so his alliance with the still competitive McLaren seemed quite promising. But unfortunately, it turned out the way he did. As his teammate Senna battled for wins, Michael was throwing fireballs and displaying lame pace. The most the American achieved was third place at the Italian Grand Prix. Three stages before the end of the season in the McLaren cockpit, Andretti was replaced by Mika Hakkinen.
However, the failures of some champions of the “American formula” do not mean at all that Alex Palou will necessarily repeat his luck. We just want to warn against inflated expectations regarding the Spaniard’s formulaic debut. In the future, he may succeed in F-1, but in the beginning it pays to be more tolerant of possible failures from him.
Be that as it may, but Palou first needs to sign a contract with one of the Formula 1 teams, and only then will we know what he is capable of, competing with the best drivers on the planet.
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