Pato O’Ward’s primary duty is to be a driver for Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar team, but he has been steadily becoming more familiar with McLaren’s Formula 1 operations over the past couple years.

The Mexican driver earned his first F1 outing by winning a bet with Zak Brown that he could win his first IndyCar race in 2021, and his multiple test runs and FP1 outings since have shown he has the skills to wrangle the powerful cars.

As much as he has enjoyed every opportunity to drive the more advanced machinery, his most recent laps have made him realize just how far he was pushing himself to adapt to different cars during his initial F1 test runs.

After completing his latest outing with the McLaren MCL60 during a post-season test, the 24-year-old described how he’s had to work outside his comfort zone in order to earn his role as McLaren’s newest reserve driver for the 2024 season.

“This is a competitive sport,” said O’Ward. “From my experience, if you want to be a champion you have to be uncomfortable. You need to put yourself into these uncomfortable positions in order to grow.

“For me, [F1] was very uncomfortable a couple years ago. It’s very new, very different, there’s a lot of eyes. It takes some time getting used to it.

“It’s not a light switch where you can go ‘I’m on now, and I’m good.’ It takes a lot of work, 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 [to get to] where I’ve gotten. For me, it’s a nice challenge to accept. If it ends up happening, fantastic! I know I’m good enough to be here. If it doesn’t, it’s just going to make me better everywhere else.”

O’Ward has noticeably improved his pace during his multiple F1 outings, leading him to state the he feels like he’s now able to drive the car around the track, rather than the other way around.

The recent test day even saw the skilled driver log the second fastest time of the day, ahead of many current F1 drivers who were also on track in cars they were intimately familiar with.

He is now in a position where he almost expects to be given more precious track time, and even has lofty ambitions about competing in the global series after bringing his team an Indy 500 victory in IndyCar.

O’Ward led 39 laps during the most recent Indianapolis 500, the most of anyone. Photo: Kevin Dejewski

“Every time that you do more FP1s, more testing, that’s just more time in the car,” continued O’Ward. “That means someone is ultimately believing in you and your preparation and giving you that opportunity to be ready if those doors do open.

“For me, it’s all about – I’m fully focused on what I have to do in IndyCar because 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, staring my fifth next year. We’ve been so close to a championship as well. I want to give it to the team, and to myself.

“It would be quite the Cinderella story to then tackle the challenge of Formula 1 and be a contender. Not just come here to have fun. We’re here to win, we’re not here to go out and about and enjoy what Formula 1 has to offer.”

O’Ward will shift much of his focus back to IndyCar this off season, as he prepares to race with the series’ hybrid powertrain for the first time at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10.

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