Could Palmer be IndyCar’s next F1 refugee?

The F1 career of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer is likely to come to an end this year. By the close of the season – if not earlier – the former GP2 (aka F2) champion is widely expected to be dropped by the works team.

A string of poor performances, woeful reliability and the speed of teammate Nico Hulkenberg have left Palmer facing the F1 abyss. His chances of finding another ride are slim.

Could Palmer follow former F1 refugees Max Chilton and Alexander Rossi to IndyCar? Quite possibly.

Near the back of the F1 grid but spoiled for choice

Renault’s return to F1 has not been a happy one. Despite being stuck in the bottom third of the field, circumstances dictate that Renault could have their pick of drivers in 2018.

The increasingly frustrated Carlos Sainz, Russian F2 racer Sergei Sirotkin and Esteban Ocon are just a few of the options that could be presented to the team.

Sainz Hulkenberg F1 Toro Rosso Renault
Could Carlos Sainz team up with Nico Hulkenberg at Renault in 2018? (Image:

Fernando Alonso might yet return ‘home’ if McLaren cannot secure competitive engines for 2018 and then there is the wildcard, Robert Kubica. Indeed Kubica’s recent testing with Renault has quickly turned him from a 100/1 shot to a driver under serious consideration.

Palmer looks washed up and out of his depth in F1 right now. Which is unfair to a driver with a GP2 championship – F1’s feeder series – on his resume. Like Rossi and Chilton before him Palmer is just another on the long list of talented drivers chewed up and spat out by F1.

Which is part of the reason why a move to IndyCar could work.

Palmer is no journeyman racer

Palmer is a good racer. Winning in GP2 let alone taking the championship is not the mark of a journeyman racer. Past champions include no less than Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton and Hulkenberg.

In 2014 Palmer beat the highly rated Stoffel Vandoorne as well as Rossi,  Conor Daly and 2016 champ Pierre Gasly to the title. Despite one and a half difficult seasons with Renault, Palmer has not forgotten how to race and to win.

Proven pedigree in spec racing championships

GP2/F2 is perhaps the ultimate spec open wheel racing series. Chassis, engines, gearboxes and more are standardised across all teams. The formula demands a driver and team capable of maximising what they have and separates the great drivers from the good. Sound familiar?

Alexander Rossi IndyCar
Rossi is just one of the talented drivers Palmer beat in GP2 (Image: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar)

The relative performances of Chilton and Rossi in GP2 and IndyCar make a compelling case. Palmer’s success in GP2 and his time in F1 can be considered a strong grounding for a foray into IndyCar.

Despite having never raced on an IndyCar circuit, Rossi in particular has marked himself out as an IndyCar champion in waiting. Excluding their respective stints in F1, Palmer has the potential to be every bit as good, if not better, than Rossi.

The financial backing to make it work?

Talent is not enough to secure an IndyCar seat these days. But that is not necessarily a barrier to Palmer forging an alternative career in America. Like Max Chilton, Palmer has a wealthy dad who has been ever present during his ascent to Formula 1.

Max Chilton IndyCar Ganassi
Chilton benefits from J.A. Gallagher sponsorship – the company CEO is his father, Grahame (Image: IndyCar)

Palmer’s father – Jonathan – is CEO and majority shareholder in Motor Sport Vision, the company that owns most of the motor racing circuits in the UK. The former F1 driver himself is also very well connected within the motor sport community. Thus finding a budget to get Jolyon launched in IndyCar should not present a major issue.

Who might sign Palmer in IndyCar?

The IndyCar driver market is entering a period of serious flux ahead of 2018. But teams like Schmidt Peterson and Rahal Letterman Lanigan spring to mind.

The former is losing patience with Mikhail Aleshin’s financial backers and RLL are aiming to run 2 cars full-time next season. Palmer could fit the bill for either team if budgets can be agreed and secured.

Undoubtedly there could be plenty of options if the price and circumstances are right for Palmer to join IndyCar.

Watch this space.

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