Palou, who will remain with Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar next year after a long contractual push and pull for his services with Arrow McLaren SP, made his official F1 debut at the Circuit of the Americas in FP1 for the Grand Prix of USA.
Replacing Daniel Ricciardo for the hour-long session, 2021 IndyCar title winner Palou put in a best effort of 1m39.911s that dropped him to 17th fastest.
Although he was two seconds slower than team-mate Lando Norris’ best effort, Palou only did long runs on the medium Pirelli compound and never got around to testing the softs.
Nonetheless, the 25-year-old Spaniard was taken aback by the capabilities of a contemporary F1 car, having previously racked up miles in the team’s 2021 machine at the Red Bull Ring.
“It’s fast, it’s crazy!” she got excited afterwards.
“Obviously I was lucky enough to test before the 2021 car, so it already gave me the feeling of an F1 car.
“But then here obviously you have the traffic, you don’t want to hinder anyone else. And you have a car that is not yours.
“I was trying to take care of the car, obviously not trying to get in trouble with the people who are going to race this weekend.
“This track, I think is quite impressive for an F1 car, especially the super fast sector one. And it was beautiful to drive.”
Alex Palou, McLaren
Photo by: Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images
Palou admitted that “the car was capable of so much that it just slipped past me in a few spots, which I think is good.”
“It’s better to go over and then back up if you only have an hour,” he explained.
“And I knew we only had one set of tires so I had to do the whole thing in two laps. He couldn’t wait long, so that’s probably why.
“What would improve? I think just more laps and obviously getting another set of tires at the end would have helped.
“But our program today wasn’t going fast, it was getting data for the team early on, which we did… And then we focused on myself.”
Palou tested with Dale Coyne Racing at COTA in 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the cancellation of the second planned IndyCar race there.
He explained that the McLaren was “more sensitive to the wind than an IndyCar” on the track, describing it as “close to what we felt on the ovals”.
“A little bit of wind hurts the balance of the car a lot,” he said. “And it was tricky in Sector 1 today which obviously didn’t help me on my first day and I didn’t want to crash in my only free practice! In an IndyCar, obviously you’ll go a lot slower out there.
“I trusted the car 100 per cent, but the car was capable of doing more than I thought… so I started to push more.
Alex Palou, McLaren MCL36
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar/Motorsport Images
“It’s true that in the slow corners I was quite strong, but I think it’s easy, obviously, to get more confident there.
“The last two corners I lacked a bit, especially the penultimate. But the car could do a lot more than he thought.
“It wasn’t confidence, it was that I couldn’t believe how fast I could go with the car.”
Palou’s IndyCar rival Patricio O’Ward will race Lando Norris’ car in practice for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.