Pato O’Ward was full of enthusiasm after a solid McLaren outing in the post-F1 2023 tyre test, where he claimed a P2 finish.
O’Ward, who races for McLaren in IndyCar, has had Formula 1 on the agenda over recent days after contesting FP1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before getting back behind the wheel of the MCL60 on Tuesday as part of the Pirelli tyre test at Yas Marina Circuit.
In a first for him, O’Ward completed more than a race distance as he further got to grips with Formula 1 machinery, clocking an impressive P2-worthy best time of a 1:24.662, faster than the likes of Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc as he turned heads in the paddock.
Pato O’Ward beaming after McLaren outing
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher
O’Ward was revelling in the experience of putting the McLaren through its paces, hailing the F1 “machines” as he reflected on the extreme “commitment and competence” needed to get the best out of them.
“Run plan today it was a little bit of everything,” O’Ward told media including PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher in Abu Dhabi.
“We did 100 And something laps, just in the morning it was like 73 or something and they were continuous laps, there weren’t really much cooldowns there. We did more than a full race distance, which was a first for me.
“And just really reading the car, on the tyre deg, getting to push it, getting to experience what does it do when it locks the rears, what does it do when you lock the fronts, what does it do when you lose the rear, if it’s too much flap in the front, do you need more downforce. So all these different things that add up to quite a bit of lap time.
“These cars are so capable that you need that confidence in them in order to extract the lap time and today in the afternoon, when we did the low-fuel runs, the way that you can attack the car, compared to a high-fuel or mid-tank fuel, it’s a big difference.
“Just the commitment and the competence that you have to have in it in order to extract the laptime out of it. But it feels unbelievable, they are just machines.”
O’Ward explained that the neck is the biggest limitation he found for getting the best out of an F1 car, but after years of “destroying” his neck in preparation, he proudly declared that it was a “champ” and withstood the extreme test.
Asked if he felt he had reached the point of locking in his confidence and commitment over one lap, O’Ward replied: “I think I’m fairly close, I think there’s still [some way] to go.
“Every time I jump in the car I always learn more and I always extract more and more and more lap time. But I got to a really nice place today where I felt like I was on top of the car, I felt like I was making it do what I wanted it to do and I didn’t feel so much kind of in a guessing game.
“When you get into these really fast race cars, so much downforce, so much more than what you’re used to and so capable, you’re sometimes guessing what it can give you because of just how good they are and how good they do everything else.
“And just knowing when you keep shaving that laptime down, where is it? It’s not going to be everywhere, but there’s certain areas that you need to experience in order to have that confidence and really push it.
“The limitation here for sure is the neck, but I did over 100 laps today and my neck was a champ. I’m so proud! You have no idea how much work I’ve done on my neck the past two years, I have destroyed it day and day after day after day to withstand what these cars are capable of.
“In the quick corners, it is unbelievable just how much speed you can carry in and then how much you can carry out, you get onto the throttle in places where you’re like, ‘There’s no way’ and the thing is just planted and it goes, it’s awesome.”
Pato O’Ward brands hands-on experience key in bid to impress F1 teams
While Colton Herta came close in recent times, Formula 1 is still waiting on a current IndyCar star to make the switch, O’Ward very much hoping one day it can be him.
And feeling that he is now at a point where he can start proving his abilities to the F1 teams, O’Ward explained that all the data analysis in the world will not allow a driver to make the progress needed, only getting behind the wheel will do that.
Asked if he feels at a level now where he is showing F1 teams what he is capable of, O’Ward replied: “Yeah, absolutely.
“I think I got to a place today where I could really see, I mean, from the start of the day to the end of the day and even from my second-to-last soft run to my last soft run, the increments and just the learning that I was doing corner by corner was huge.
“And just you download a bit of what you see on the data and then you go out and do it. And I’ve always said, you can watch data and lines all you want, but the only thing that is going to allow you to replicate this every single time is when you go out and you do it.
“You have to experience the feeling of what it feels like to do certain things in order for you to take that next step and then keep on building. You’re not going to do it by just looking at the lines.”
McLaren’s F1 driver line-up is set for the foreseeable future, Lando Norris contracted until the end of 2025 and Oscar Piastri 2026.