Arrow McLaren IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward will serve as McLaren’s Formula 1 reserve driver outside of his IndyCar duties in 2024.
O’Ward’s position at McLaren has allowed him to have multiple Formula 1 outings.
His immediate path to a Formula 1 seat is blocked by the presence of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri at McLaren.
Pato O’Ward says it would be “a Cinderella story” if he could deliver McLaren a victory at the Indianapolis 500 before proving himself in Formula 1.
O’Ward, 24, has raced for McLaren in the IndyCar Series since 2020, delivering four wins, and a best finish of third in the championship in 2021. He finished second at the 2022 Indy 500 and battled for the lead in 2023 before crashing out of the race.
O’Ward’s IndyCar position at Arrow McLaren has allowed him to have multiple Formula 1 outings with the McLaren F1 team, including on Tuesday at the rookie test at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, which came two years after his first public run in Formula 1.
O’Ward, who will act as McLaren’s Formula 1 reserve driver outside of his IndyCar duties in 2024, has also participated in two free practice sessions, both at Yas Marina, in 2022 and 2023.
His immediate path to a Formula 1 seat is blocked by the presence of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri at McLaren, who are contracted to 2025 and 2026 respectively, but O'Ward says he is still eyeing a future in F1.
“Every time that you do more FP1s, you do more testing, that’s just more time in the car,” said O’Ward, who completed 103 laps in the MCL60. “That means someone is ultimately believing in you, in your preparation and giving you that opportunity to be ready if those doors do open.
“For me it’s all about being fully focused on what I have to do in IndyCar, I want to give the 500 win to McLaren, I want to be the one that gives it to them, because I’ve been with them for four years, and we’ve been so close, and to a championship as well, I want to give it to the team, and to myself, and then, you know, it’d be quite the Cinderella story to tackle the challenge in Formula 1 and be a contender: not just come here and have fun.
"We’re here to win, we’re not here to go out and about and enjoy what Formula 1 has to offer, this is a competitive sport and from my experience if you want to be a champion you have to put yourself in these uncomfortable positions in order to grow.
“And for me this (Formula 1) was very uncomfortable a couple of years ago, it’s very new, very different, there were a lot of eyes, and it takes some time getting used to, it’s not a light switch where it’s ‘I’m on now, and I’m good’, it takes a lot of work, a lot of fine detail and it can get really frustrating sometimes.
“I’ve had a journey so far in my career, and I’ve had to work really hard where I’ve gotten to, so for me it’s a nice challenge to accept, and if [Formula 1] it ends up happening, fantastic, I know I’m good enough to be here. But if it doesn’t it’s just going to make me better everywhere else, so it’s a winning formula, to keep evolving as a racing driver.”
O’Ward believes he has now gotten to a place with Formula 1 machinery where “I feel like I’m on top of the car, and making it do what I wanted to do” and that “it didn’t feel like so much of a guessing game,” having previously struggled to find the limit.
Key to that improvement has been O’Ward’s physical gains, particularly in terms of strengthening the neck, a crucial challenge posed by the high-downforce Formula 1 cars.
“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,” said a beaming O’Ward.
“I have destroyed it day after day after day after day, to withstand what these cars are capable of, because in the quick corners it is unbelievable how much speed you can carry in, and how much you can just 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.”