For a guy without a full-time drive, Pato O’Ward has certainly been keeping busy. This time last week he had no plans for this weekend; today, he finished qualifying for his Formula 2 debut in Austria with MP Motorsport. RACER spoke to the Mexican about adapting on the fly.
Q: How do you feel after your first experience of qualifying, the F2 car and the Red Bull Ring?
PATO O’WARD: First impressions of the circuit is that it’s beautiful! I know it doesn’t look good on paper that we’re 17th, but we are 1.0s off from pole. I don’t know the car, I don’t know the tire and I don’t know the circuit. I’ve had maybe eight flying laps to really push the car and see what it can do. So I don’t really think we’re that bad. What also shows me that I’m not that far off is that my teammate and I are about a tenth off each other. It just shows we have to work a bit more.
The issue for me right now is I need to learn how to find a way to extract the time from a new set of tires. I looked to be a lot stronger on a race run or on multiple laps, but to get that peak lap for a qualifying lap I haven’t found my way around it yet.”
Q: You mentioned your teammate, Jordan (King). Have you had to lean on him a bit, has he helped or have you had to find out on your own?
P O’W: Obviously I asked him a couple of questions. He’s driven the IndyCar so he knows the differences, but there’s a lot of things you just can’t explain until you experience it. I got to experience it this morning, and we were 1.5s off, now we’re 1.0s off, so we’ve got half a second better. There’s been improvements, but there’s just such little track time that it’s made it so hard to be very competitive in qualifying. But I think for someone who’s never driven the circuit, the tire and the car, I really don’t think it’s that bad. We can only improve from here.
“It’s been nice to have someone who has driven what I’ve driven beside me. Especially in debriefs, if I’m feeling something he can say ‘Oh it’s this car’, or ‘No, it’s a problem’. But it just looks like this car is quite different to all the other ones that I’m used to, so it’s just going to take some time to get used to. We are a work in progress, for sure.
Q: You’ve only had today so it’s not a lot of time in the car, but what are the similarities and differences between this and IndyCar?
P O’W: There is quite a bit of turbo lag in the Formula 2 car. In the IndyCar you can’t even feel it. In everything like the drive and the gearbox, the IndyCar is a lot quicker. In this one it’s kind of jumping back into an Indy Lights feeling, to be honest, where the gearbox is clunky, the turbo delivery is a lot more violent than the IndyCar, and everything is not as smooth.
But power-wise, it’s quite close to the IndyCar. I think downforce-wise it can probably go around a quick corner very similar, if not a bit quicker. The more input you give it, the more the car turns, which is very different to IndyCar because it’s like responding, responding and then it starts to go away and understeers. It’s because it’s a heavy car. But it drives very different, the way you brake and the way you can coast into the corner is completely different. So right now I’ve only had a matter of laps to do it, but it’s going to take some time to really get it down. Once I figure out how to extract the time from a new tire I should be fine.
Q: You shouldn’t have to worry about that so much in the feature race, tomorrow you’ll have one stop…
P O’W: Exactly, tomorrow we’ll have one stop, and I think it’s just in the back of my mind that I’m going to have to save the tires. Don’t destroy them. Just the fundamental things of, don’t get a lot of wheelspin, don’t go sideways, just have a tidy number of laps to really just take care of the tires as much as you can. From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty savage whenever they go off.
Q: You probably want to move forward in the race because your long runs were stronger, but how do you balance that with learning and getting experience, especially with the Pirelli tires?
P O’W: Yeah I think tomorrow I’m going to have to feel it out whenever everything starts. I haven’t done a standing start in five years, so that’s going to be something different as well! I’ve kind of been thrown into a dark room and don’t really have much way. I’m just kind of feeling out the walls and finding my own way, but it’s about enjoying it. So I’m going to try and learn as much as I can, and then going forward it will be a positive overall. I’m trying to treat this more of like a testing session or a test day, because you can’t just expect to go into something you have no clue about and go straight to the top. Especially with a car that is completely different to everything else you’ve driven.
So it will take some time, and I think it’s shown in the category. I mean, there’s guys who have been in this series for four or five years, and some struggled a bit even last year with the new car. So it does look like it takes a while to get up to speed, but I think with some more running and really finding the best way and what this tire really likes with this car, I think is going to be the key point and I should just keep improving.
Q: So are you hoping Sunday’s sprint race will be the day where you can show your progress over the weekend and have a bit more fun?
P O’W: I hope we just continue progressing, and I’m sure we will. We progressed half a second in qualifying. In the race it’s going to be hard to see obviously in times, but seeing how competitive we are compared to the top guys is going to be the main focus. If we’re quite close to them there, then the next time we get a chance to do this it will be about finding out what the best thing to do in qualifying is.