Pato O’Ward exclusive: ‘I’m keeping F1 dream until the day I die’

Sam Cooper
Pato O'Ward

Pato O'Ward will drive an F1 car again in Abu Dhabi.

For a driver who has never raced in Formula 1, Pato O’Ward is accustomed more than most to life behind one of the world’s fastest cars.

In his early career, the Mexican born, American raised driver signed to Red Bull’s junior team but the FIA’s opinion of IndyCar and its associated series meant he was lacking the super licence points to compete in Formula 1.

Red Bull cut ties in 2020 despite O’Ward’s Indy Lights championship victory but it was not long before Zak Brown and McLaren took an interest.

O’Ward joined the Arrow McLaren SP team the same year Red Bull bid their farewells. The IndyCar contender was going through a transformation with McLaren becoming joint owners before the Woking outfit acquired 75% of the team in 2021.

It is McLaren’s desire to compete in a variety of series, led by Brown but following the mantra set by Bruce McLaren, that has given O’Ward more opportunities than many of his peers.

“It’s awesome,” O’Ward said in his typically upbeat mood when describing McLaren’s racing endeavours. “ Obviously, the head of it all is Formula 1 and then we’ve got the IndyCar, we’ve got the Formula E, we’ve got Extreme E.

“So we’ve got all these different teams and all these crossovers that we can do. It sounds cheesy, but we are the one team, one dream kind of thing.”

O’Ward’s love of motorsport was born from F1 but it has led him to IndyCar, a series in which he has regularly finished within the top places including a career high third in 2021. It was that season that the opportunity to drive an F1 car was the carrot dangled in front of him by Brown. The McLaren CEO informed O’Ward that if he were to get a win that year, the first since McLaren’s ownership, a test awaited him.

O’Ward did just that. A maiden victory in Texas was followed by another in Detroit. The Mexican received his first test of the MCL35M at the end of the season in Abu Dhabi but not before driving the MP4/13 under the tutelage of Mika Häkkinen.

Since the first drive, a car he described as a “rocket ship”, O’Ward has had more time behind the F1 wheel, most recently in Barcelona and it was in Catalunya that something clicked for the 24-year-old.

“Something has definitely changed in terms of what it feels like now,” O’Ward said. “I have found the feeling that I’ve been looking for the past couple years with an F1 car, which is the feeling that I look for in any race car that I drive.

“It’s taken a bit longer to get in F1 but when you feel at one with the car, you just feel at home with everything and not just pushing the car to the limit, but also just with the procedures and everything. I have definitely taken a big step in the right direction with the Formula 1 car so I was super, super happy to feel that in Barcelona.

“Because, it’s not the best feeling when you always just feel like a passenger and you feel like the car is driving you in a way.”

Pressed on exactly what he was referring to, O’Ward remarked that if the IndyCar likes to be “aggressively driven”, you have to be more gentle with F1 vehicles.

“They are two different beasts,” he said. The IndyCar likes to get manhandled around and it just likes to be aggressively driven.

“F1 is the complete opposite. The F1 car is capable of so much but you have to be very gentle with it. recommends

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“It’s something that I’ve had to learn and to try and perfect a bit more because I just wasn’t used to anything like that.”

O’Ward will climb back into the McLaren car in Abu Dhabi, taking part in the season finale’s FP1 session which will be his second official practice session having completed the same event last season.

The four-time IndyCar race winner believes this experience behind the wheel has given him the edge in terms of the many others trying to break into the F1 bubble. But with Lando Norris signed until 2025 and Oscar Piastri until 2026, there is no obvious opportunity on the horizon for O’Ward.

At 24, he has plenty of career left ahead of him and having previously admitted he would be willing to leave the McLaren family to pursue an F1 career, he reiterated that racing in motorsport’s premier division will be his “dream until the day that I die.”

“I grew up with Formula 1 as my dream, it will still remain my dream until the day that I die,” he said. “Because that just doesn’t go away.

“If something that is so powerful in you, that ultimately is what led me to IndyCar, you can’t just turn that off.

“And for me, all I can do is make sure that when an opportunity does come about my name is the only one that is mentioned and that’s really as much as I can do. I’m going to keep getting better and in every way that I can.

“Obviously I would love to be in Formula 1 because I know I’d be able to do what I’m doing in IndyCar. I know I’m more than capable to do it and Formula 1 [even though] it’s another series in another race car, I’ve always been confident in my abilities.

“I’ve no doubt that I would just do me, get used to it and I know I’d be able to deliver and to perform. It really is just about having that opportunity to get laps under your belt. You can’t expect to just jump into a Formula 1 car and look like a hero. No, that doesn’t exist, you need laps to get the reins of it and understand it.”

Having joined in 2020, O’Ward is the second longest serving driver of McLaren’s racing family behind only Norris. In 2024, he will embark on his fifth full IndyCar season, hoping to knock Alex Palou off his perch after the Spaniard’s dominant 2023. Do that and maybe that F1 dream will become a reality?

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