Álex Palou: “I’d rather be Indy champion than be in F1, where only six compete” thumbnail

Álex Palou: “I’d rather be Indy champion than be in F1, where only six compete”

Despite having coincided with Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, on the karting tracks scattered throughout Europe, the story of Alex Palou (Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, Barcelona, ​​24 years old) followed a different tangent from that of the pilots of Red Bull and Ferrari. After passing through Japan, the Catalan took advantage of the opportunity they gave him in the United States, where on Sunday he became the first Spaniard to be proclaimed IndyCar champion. The first whim he indulged in was a good keg of fried chicken, a tradition he has followed to the letter after each of the three victories he has achieved. This Wednesday, still in celebration, Palou sat down to chat with EL PAÍS.

Question. How much chicken has he eaten since Sunday?

Answer. Too. In fact, they rented me a chicken-shaped limousine for tonight to keep the celebrations going.

P. Has there been any unexpected congratulations?

R. I was especially excited about Pau Gasol. I would never have imagined it. Also Lewis Hamilton congratulated me and also Fernando [Alonso], although I already had contact with him.

P. Will you indulge yourself?

R. I will buy myself a motorhome. I am very excited, but more than a whim it is something that is used a lot here, to be able to have your space when you go racing. That will be my whim.

P. Was your title expected to have such a big impact in Spain?

R. The truth is, no. It is true that interest grew throughout the season, especially as a result of the first victory. I’m very happy, because you can’t expect to win the championship either and all of a sudden everyone knows what IndyCar is. I hope the interest grows.

P. That you are in this position right now is, to a large extent, the decision to go racing to Japan when you ran out of budget to continue in Europe?

R. Going to Japan was an important decision, because it is a culturally very different country from ours, which is also on the other side of the world. When you go to run there, there is a chance that you will stay, and nothing would have happened either. But I was very clear that I wanted to race in the Indy. There they helped me get to the United States.

P. In Europe, one has the feeling that anyone who does not reach F1 has not achieved their goal. Why was it so clear that you wanted to race in IndyCar?

R. On the one hand I understand it, because F1 is the most popular. Everything that is not F1 is frowned upon. But it is that in that World Championship there are only 20 lucky riders who can be there, and of them, only six are in a position to win every weekend. It’s not even those 20. For me, as a driver, what I like is being able to show that I can win. A site in which I have a direct impact on the result, that not everything depends only on the car. F1 is more of a technological competition, between the constructors, and then there is the driver, who can do something. But everyone knows that a Williams cannot compete against a Mercedes. On the other hand, in Indy, the small teams do compete with the big ones, and that’s because last year I was in one of the modest teams, and I was fighting. The IndyCar was the goal that I could aspire to without having behind Palou Cosmetics, For example, to exert pressure or have a large budget.

P. In F1 there are many who say that there are several drivers who would be champions if they could have a Mercedes. In Indy, that disagreement with the champion does not exist. Do you think your title is the fairest there can be?

R. On that we all agree. If Alonso had owned a Mercedes for years he would have fought for the title multiple times. This shows that only a few fight for the World Cup, and that F1 is a championship of six. The Indy is a championship of 30, where the car is the same and where half of the grid goes with one engine (Honda) and the other half, with another (Chevrolet).

P. This has been his second season at Indy. Doesn’t it make you a little dizzy to have reached your goal so early?

R. On the contrary. In fact, this title gives me a boost because I still believe that there are things that can be improved. It’s just been two years. Of my rivals for the title, one has been here for 15 years, the other for ten and the other for four. Four is not so much? Okay, but it’s twice what I’m wearing. We have an opportunity to continue winning, and many goals ahead.

Alex Palou during an interview at the Acura Long Beach Annual Grand Prix this Saturday.
Alex Palou during an interview at the Acura Long Beach Annual Grand Prix this Saturday. JAVIER ROJAS / EFE

P. The most immediate is the 500 Miles?

R. Yes. But it is very difficult, because you only have one weekend in which a lot can happen. In a season you play many races, with many laps each, in which you can have a certain control of things. Being the best for 200 laps on a particular weekend, on a particular track, is more difficult to square.

P. This year he was very close (he finished second), despite a very spectacular accident during qualifying.

R. The car was wrecked. That night the mechanics couldn’t sleep. And I had printed it, so in addition to apologizing 2,000 times, I brought them donuts as a token of thanks.

P. He has achieved three victories and eight podiums, more than anyone. How do you explain that, with only one year of experience, consistency has been your main argument this year?

R. We have gone fast, but going fast does not give you more chances to win. We saw it this year, with drivers who were ahead one weekend and finished 15th the next. It’s more effective to finish two races in the top five than to win one event and crash the next. We have made more podiums than our rivals and have finished in the top five more times than them. That is what has made the difference.

P. Throughout his formative stage he coincided with Verstappen, Sainz, Leclerc and Russell, among others. How does it feel to see all of them in F1?

R. In the days of karting we all know each other. Verstappen had been a Red Bull driver from a very young age, so he was going to have the opportunity. Sainz was too [de Red Bull]. Leclerc was at the Ferrari school; Ocon, from Renault. I was already preparing. It is not that one day you will see that they are there and you are not. From the beginning they were almost inside and I, I … Envy is not the word, but it is true that I would like to have had the opportunity that others had. My family had no experience in the running world and we didn’t have the money to pay for it either, so I was happy to be able to race in Japan. And now, this year, I don’t care where they are, because none of them are champions. I’d rather be Indy champion than F1.

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