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McLaren drops injured Malukas from IndyCar line-up

Written by on April 30, 2024

Arrow McLaren has released David Malukas following a pre-season wrist injury that has kept him out of all four 2024 IndyCar races so far.

It will announce who will drive the #6 car for the remainder of the season at a later date.

Malukas fractured his left wrist in a mountain bike accident just before starting what was to be his third season in IndyCar – and his first with Arrow McLaren after joining from Dale Coyne Racing.

He’d raced at Coyne – scoring two podiums at Gateway – following his 2021 runner-up finish in the Indy Lights championship.

Malukas had been signed to replace Alex Palou – another driver who never raced for the team as he changed his mind and stayed with Chip Ganassi, triggering a lawsuit with McLaren. Palou, in turn, had been set to take over Felix Rosenqvist’s seat.

Malukas had been scheduled to return to action at Long Beach in mid-April, but it became clear well before that race that his recovery was delayed and that he was facing a longer-than-anticipated period out on the sidelines.

The team informed Malukas at Barber on Sunday that he would be released.

Its press release on Monday – which contained no quotes from team management – said it was due to him “being unavailable for the entirety of the season to date, with no confirmed return date”.

Malukas himself was quoted as saying: “The past three months have been challenging. I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to drive for Arrow McLaren and regret that it never materialized. I would have loved to have continued representing the team and its partners going forward. They have been good, and I appreciate all they have done for me.

“I’ve done everything possible to speed up the rehab process – treatments, physiotherapy, strength training – but my recovery has taken longer than anticipated. Every injury is different, and every body heals at a different pace.

“I’ll turn my full attention to getting back to 100 percent and then prove that I am ready and able to compete to win.”

Malukas underwent surgery last week, and it is unclear how that went or when Malukas will be able to return to driving.

The two-time podium finisher is one of the youngest drivers in the field, at 22, but will face a fight to find a way back to the grid – having lost his seat four races into a 17-event calendar.

WHO WILL REPLACE MALUKAS?

Callum Ilott – who entered IndyCar in the same season as Malukas in 2022 – was the go-to replacement for the first couple of races, but as a Jota Sport World Endurance Championship driver for Porsche, Ilott has calendar clashes and Long Beach was the first of those.

The Race understands Ilott will race the Indianapolis 500 for McLaren.

Malukas was looking forward to the 500 where he has gone well in the past – he controversially missed out on the race’s rookie of the year award in 2022 despite being the highest-placed newcomer in the results. NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson was awarded it instead on the basis of his overall impact on the event.

Malukas also tested the McLaren car on the oval at Indy – his only time behind the wheel of McLaren machinery – in October last year.

Theo Pourchaire took over for Long Beach, scoring 12th on his debut without having driven the car before that weekend.

The reigning Formula 2 champion finished 23rd at Barber after late contact with team-mate Pato O’Ward sent him to the back of the pack.

Pourchaire is likely to be in the car again for the next IndyCar race, on May 11 at the Indianapolis road course, because Ilott has a clash with a WEC race at Spa.

After that, and the 500 – which Ilott will do – it’s unclear who McLaren’s preferred driver would be.

Both drivers have more clashes – with Pourchaire racing in Super Formula this year – but a combination of the two could do the full remaining schedule.

Here’s how a split season for the rest of the year could look, assuming McLaren doesn’t have a third alternative driver to trial or doesn’t decide to get someone with no clashes (or try to manoeuvre to secure either Ilott or Pourchaire full-time):

Indy road course, May 11 – Pourchaire (Ilott at Spa for WEC)
Indy 500, May 26 – Ilott (more oval experience)
Detroit, June 2 – Ilott or Pourchaire
Road America, June 9 – Pourchaire (Ilott at Le Mans for practice)
Laguna Seca, June 23 – Ilott (Pourchaire at Sugo for Super Formula)
Mid-Ohio, July 7 – Ilott or Pourchaire
Iowa, July 13-14 – Pourchaire (Ilott at Interlagos for WEC)
Toronto, July 21 – Ilott (Pourchaire at Fuji for Super Formula)
Gateway, August 17 – Ilott or Pourchaire
Portland, August 25 – Ilott (Pourchaire at Motegi for Super Formula)
Milwaulkee, Aug 31-Sep 1 – Pourchaire (Ilott at COTA for WEC)
Nashville, September 15 – Pourchaire (Ilott at Fuji for WEC)

As well as Malukas’s now-former seat being up for grabs for the long term, sources in the paddock understand that there’s an option on McLaren’s side in Alexander Rossi’s contract at the end of 2024.

So McLaren has to evaluate potential drivers across two of its three cars, with O’Ward signed through 2027 for the other.

The Race understands McLaren is open to considering a Malukas reunion in the future – but that the current separation is positioned as being as much for Malukas to be able to look for another team when he is fit as it is for the squad to confirm a replacement.

The Race says

Despite McLaren’s best efforts to handle this correctly, I doubt there will be anyone reading this story who does not think Malukas has had it rough.

It’s unfortunate that no sort of rule is in place to stop this from happening, like a clause in a contract that stops a driver from being dropped so early on even if they are injured.

It’s true that Malukas’s accident happened when he was mountain biking in his spare time – something the team’s sporting director Tony Kanaan told The Race last week probably meant Malukas gets less sympathy because his injury didn’t come in a car.

In that story, you can read Kanaan talk about how he has been helping Malukas, spending 70% of his time with him – apparently to the detriment of working with the other drivers – to take him to hospital appointments, provide him with a simulator to use and generally be a supportive shoulder to cry on as a driver who had been through something similar.

Despite the fact McLaren is willing to consider Malukas in the future, this does feel like a total break between the two parties.

Your opinion on the situation may vary.

On the one hand, McLaren has worked hard to support Malukas up to now, has dedicated resources to helping him and perhaps even put its other four drivers at a disadvantage because Kanaan hasn’t had time to work with them properly.

There’s also the toll it takes on the team to have to field different drivers in the car and the amount of disruption that causes, and the impact on sponsors – who want the driver secured in the car with their name on the side.

It also does give Malukas a better opportunity to find another team; if McLaren had kept him while waiting to evaluate his condition later in the year and then cut ties, Malukas might have missed out on opportunities elsewhere.

However, the other side of this will be that McLaren has been too harsh in letting Malukas go four races into the season, that it could have given him more time, kept him on in some sort of role in the team. And what sort of message does this send to people if they get injured while at McLaren?

Of course, Malukas himself has been vary gracious in his announcement – a reflection of what he is like in person – with his words of appreciation for McLaren, but he also made it fairly clear that he did not want to leave. But leave he must.

It certainly doesn’t have the outward appearance of a decision in keeping with the focus to put people first and prioritise things like mental health and well-being, which has been team boss Gavin Ward’s modus operandi since taking over the team in 2022.

But like in any of these situations, sometimes there’s a line between the ideal way to handle a situation on a human level and the cut-throat nature of business – and sometimes decisions not being fully in your hands.

Business is seldom fair to everyone involved – motorsport business almost never.

It is unfortunate that of all the teams for this to happen at, it’s one with a certain recent history. Back in 2020, McLaren released a driver who had a concussion from an Indy 500 crash in Oliver Askew.

These things happened before many of the current McLaren staff were in place and, like this one, the Askew case was a complicated story.

It’s just a shame it has come to this, and perhaps surprising in some ways that McLaren hasn’t tried more to negate the negative noise this story will produce. Maybe it has accepted it is going to take a loss in terms of public opinion here.

I hope David is able to recover quickly. His old team Dale Coyne is far from set with drivers as one of its cars is shared and three drivers have been in the other car – with ex-F2 driver Luca Ghiotto having only been confirmed on the Thursday before Barber for his debut.

It’s a long road back for Malukas, but too many talented injured drivers have gone by the wayside in recent years. Askew, Simon Pagenaud is still on the sidelines after a concussion last year, and now Malukas.

People talk the talk with sending their best wishes and hopes of a speedy recovery to these drivers, but do they walk the walk in campaigning for their return and encouraging people not to forget about them when they go through this terrible process?

This kind of thing is a fact of life in elite-level sport – but should more be done to protect these athletes?

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