Pato O’Ward’s ‘badass’ McLaren US plan – but will the F1 door then open?

Elizabeth Blackstock
McLaren reserve driver Pato O'Ward interviewed by F1.

Could Pato O'Ward make the move to F1?

As Formula 1’s prestige has grown in America, so too has the fevered desire to see an IndyCar driver take on the overseas competition.

We’ve seen several different names thrown into the ring in the past few years, but as the 2023 racing season comes to a close, only one man remains…

Step forward Pato O’Ward.

Pato O’Ward: F1 is global. It’s the big daddy

“Fans will care more if they know you, if you’re not just a name on their TV screen,” O’Ward told me during a track day he hosted at Circuit of the Americas for his fans, friends, sponsors, and media.

“When I was a kid, I’d go up to idols of mine, and maybe we’d just exchange two or three words — and that would make my year. I want to be that person for somebody.”

O’Ward’s ability to balance his growing professional profile with a desire to engage and enhance his fanbase is a large part of what has set O’Ward apart from his IndyCar compatriots when it comes to his F1 appeal.

The Mexican driver based in San Antonio, Texas, has a keen eye for finding the ideal opportunity — be it in his new reserve driver role on McLaren’s F1 team or his interest in authentically engaging his dedicated fans.

But O’Ward is also aware that he’s dipping his toes in two very distinct worlds.

Drivers in both F1 and in IndyCar have often assumed those distinctions mean the series need to compete against each other for supremacy; O’Ward is one of the few who keenly understands the fact that both series can exist in tandem, providing different products to different audiences that can both be equally compelling. recommends

F1 2025 driver line-up: Who is already confirmed for the 2025 grid?

F1 v IndyCar: Top speeds, engines, formats, calendars and safety measures all compared

“F1 is never going anywhere because F1 has invested astronomical numbers into the series and into making people feel like they’re part of something bigger,” O’Ward explained.

“F1 is global. It’s the big daddy. The racing isn’t always [exciting], but people still love the show. The cars don’t even hit the track, and you know that F1 is here.”

There’s still a big distinction between F1’s global appeal and IndyCar’s more regional one, O’Ward admitted, but he’s perplexed by IndyCar’s reticence in building a bigger profile.

“[IndyCar] needs to go full-in on Latin America,” he said. “Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay: we could grow the sport, but we don’t have to do it by trying to compete with F1.”

In many ways, I felt that O’Ward’s critiques of IndyCar were perhaps part of what makes a future career in Formula 1 so appealing.

The racer stated time and again in our conversation that he’s always looking for the best way to increase engagement with his fans — be it through track days, loungewear merch lines, or even down-to-earth social media content — while noting that IndyCar has seemed almost averse to growth.

“IndyCar is the best racing on the planet,” O’Ward said, “but it’s not a prestige product. People are paying $30,000 for a [Formula 1 paddock pass], and IndyCar worries that people won’t want to spend $100 on theirs.

“IndyCar needs to ask what it can do that’s going to make people want to show everyone in their life they were at that event.”

His critical look at IndyCar, though, doesn’t mean that O’Ward is fed up with the series; instead, he seemed hopeful that the sport will find ways to learn from F1’s example while also forging its own path forward.

And he’s still committed to giving his all to the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team: “That’s the goal always: win everything. I’ve been so close to winning the [Indianapolis] 500, and I’ve been so close to the championship. We’re at the point where those are the things we need, because we’ve done everything else.”

So, where does Formula 1 play into O’Ward’s future?

“Will [my test sessions] open doors to have a seat on F1? I don’t know. Will I take that seat when it does open? Yes. I want to. So all I can do now is make sure that the only name that comes up when that seat opens is mine. I have to do everything in my power to make sure I’m ready.

“But, man. It’d be such a Cinderella story, if [McLaren and I] can win the 500, then win the IndyCar championship, then go to F1 and challenge for a championship there,” O’Ward said. Then, he burst out into a wide smile, “That would be pretty badass.”

Read next: Revealed: The best and worst value-for-money drivers on the F1 2023 grid