Palou 'loved every second' of his F1 debut in Austin
Alex Palou describes his time behind the wheel of the MCL36 during FP1 at the US Grand Prix
"This car is insane," Alex Palou summarised over team radio at the end of FP1 in Austin. The Spanish racer will doubtlessly provide much more detailed feedback over the next few hours, but his initial reaction said it all.
In an FP1 session featuring several rookies, Palou showed immediate confidence on his first time behind the wheel of the MCL36.
The 25-year-old was running Daniel's car as part of our requirement to have rookie drivers in two FP1 sessions this season, and while he was displaying an assured demeanour on the outside, Palou says he wasn't quite so cool internally.
"The whole session was full of excitement," said a beaming Palou post-session. "It is hard to choose one thing that stood out, but going through Sector One in a Formula 1 car during a quali run - the feeling you get there is awesome.
"The car was capable of doing a lot more than I was doing, but it was so fun, and I learned so much. Working with the McLaren Racing team has been awesome - the amount of work they put in and how detailed they are is insane."
Palou spent the entire session on Mediums, setting the 17th fastest time overall with a 1:39.911 during a 21-lap stint.
After an initial bedding-in period, the Spaniard swiftly got up to speed, collecting aero data and feeding back to the team on track conditions and the balance limitations of the car. Completing the entire programme set out for him with time to spare, Palou was able to head back out and continue with some personal learning.
"It was amazing, and I loved every second of it," he continued. "I wish I had more time because it was super enjoyable as a driver. We collected the data we needed and completed all the programme.
"We did a lot of engineering work, trying to get as much knowledge from the engineers as possible, and I learned a lot.
"Once that was done, I could spend some time getting data for myself and continuing to get comfortable. I am super happy with how it went and the performance that we got. I felt strong."
The Circuit of the Americas isn't on the INDYCAR calendar, but Palou – who has also competed in Super Formula, GP3 and Euroformula Open - does have experience of the track from a pre-season test in 2020.
In preparation for his FP1 run, the 2021 INDYCAR champion completed two private tests in the 2021-spec MCL35M with our Driver Development Programme, firstly in Spain and later in Austria.
Alongside fellow INDYCAR challenger Pato O'Ward, the two drivers completed a combined 438 laps across the two outings, in addition to simulator sessions at the McLaren Technology Centre.
However, little could prepare him for the experience of a competitive session behind the wheel of the MCL36 on a busy circuit.
"When you are driving in a private test, it is very different to an official session," he explained. "During a private test, you are alone on the track, and you don't have to worry about traffic or getting in the way of anybody. Whereas in an official session, there are 20 other cars, and I didn't want to get in anyone's way, or break any track limits.
"It was a lot more intense, but the work that McLaren did to prepare me for this was awesome. I was very lucky to test beforehand, it taught me about all the switches on the car, how to drive it, and how the team worked, which helped me to perform today.
"Outside of the tests, we did some simulator work too, which was really accurate, but at the same time, you have a button where you can start over again. It prepares you a lot for the track-specific things and for the switches, but it doesn't prepare you for the G-forces or the feeling of driving an F1 car."
It was quite the day for Palou, who swapped the cockpit for the commentary box after the session, joining Sky Sports for FP2, but not before adding: "I will be cheering for the team this weekend and the entire season."
Palou on why McLAREN have been 'super fun to work with'
Alex Palou discusses his second appearance in a McLaren F1 car at a test in Austria last week
Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward to drive for McLAREN F1 in Free Practice 1 sessions
The pair are set to take the wheel of the MCL36 in Austin and Abu Dhabi
The engineering room
McLaren's Jose Manuel López speaks about the US Grand Prix
The McLAREN pop quiz: United States Grand Prix
McLaren Formula 1 quiz on the United States Grand Prix
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