McLaren CEO Zak Brown believes that defeated IndyCar title challenger Pato O’Ward nonetheless is one of the fastest drivers in the sport, and can get even better.
O’Ward racked up his first two IndyCar wins and four other podium in 2021, taking the fight to eventual champion Alex Palou down to the last round of the season.
Unfortunately his #5 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet was tagged at the hairpin by Ed Jones at the end of the first lap of last Sunday’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, spinning O’Ward to the back of the field. It’s likely the damage he incurred in the impact was what forced him to retire later on, and he would slip to third in the final standings, behind race runner-up, Team Penske-Chevrolet’s two-time champion Josef Newgarden.
Later, O’Ward would say: “Obviously, that was not the result that we wanted here in Long Beach. We’ve had a great season: getting our first win, adding another win on top of that, and being on the pole multiple times.
“The entire Arrow McLaren SP team has a lot to be proud of. Next year, we have a great baseline to start from and we will be ready to fight for another title.”
Brown echoed the positivity of his driver, commenting: “It was a great season, he is clearly one of the fastest drivers in IndyCar. It's great to work with him, because he's a very passionate driver, very fast, very brave and a great personality. And clearly a star in the sport."
Brown said that when the team decided to hire him at the end of 2019, they knew O'Ward's potential, so seeing him in the fight for the top spots in the championship was not a total surprise.
"I probably didn't expect it, because even last year he was fourth in the championship, so we knew it was a matter of time until he started winning races. I'm very impressed with the season he's had. I wasn't expecting it, but I'm not surprised."
He did say, however, that O’Ward has room for improvement for the 21-year-old Mexican to make him a more complete competitor.
"The car control he has is impressive and he is very brave,” said Brown, “but on the other hand he can have a lot of emotions if things don't go his way. That's something that comes with youth – emotion and aggression.
“Sometimes you have to let the race come to you, but I think that's something that experience and time gives you.
"But I'd rather have to slow a driver down than ask him to speed up. It is possible to manage his enthusiasm. That's something that comes only with a bit of time and experience and trust with the team in a race."
O’Ward’s F1 test won’t be preceded by Mexican GP practice run
Patricio O'Ward with Arrow McLaren SP president Taylor Kiel and Zak Brown.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Brown killed off the rumors that O’Ward, who already has the points for an FIA superlicense, might get an FP1 run in his home grand prix in Mexico City next month, driving the car of either Lando Norris or Daniel Ricciardo. He ruled out the possibility due to two factors – the need to properly prepare the Mexican driver, and also the McLaren team’s fight with Ferrari for third in the Constructors’ championship.
"We would never do it," said Brown. "We wouldn't be able to run a driver in free practice because, first, he comes into the weekend without a purpose. It would be news in Mexico, great publicity, but we will always make sure we lead with what is optimum performance, and putting another driver in either car would have an effect.
“We're in the middle of a big battle for third in the championship with Ferrari and we won't do anything to compromise that battle, that's for sure.”
Brown is not closing the door on O'Ward one day being considered for a switch to Formula 1, although he says there are many factors that could influence the decision, such as the contracts of his current drivers as well as the Mexican's adaptation to an F1 car in December’s young driver test that follows the season finale.
"We'll see after he drives the car in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “He's focused on IndyCar and wants to stay and is very focused on that. Obviously drivers always have an aspiration to drive in Formula 1, but I think we have to see how it goes in Abu Dhabi.
"We also have to see how things develop in IndyCar and we also have to see how things develop in Formula 1 to see if there would even be an opportunity in the future. I think that's important.
"We all focus on the job at hand and don't get into thinking about what could be and what couldn't be. As I told him, the best way to get to Formula 1 is to do what Villeneuve or Montoya did in the IndyCar championship. Then we'll see what happens.”
Lando Norris on pole in Sochi last weekend in his McLaren MCL35M
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images