Pato O’Ward’s goal of Formula 1 appears to be over, but that’s potentially thrust the talented 20-year-old Mexican right back into IndyCar.
After it was learned Red Bull is ending its relationship with O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion told RACER.com on Friday afternoon that IndyCar is now his primary focus, and speculation is that it could be with Arrow McLaren SP.
“Be patient, good things are coming.” he responded when asked if he was returning to IndyCar, where he began the 2019 season. “My release from Red Bull was going to be November, but Dr. Helmut Marko called and said, ‘Hey you have options in IndyCar, take it. That’s your future’. I really appreciated him doing that.”
McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown was traveling and unavailable for comment but a spokesperson for Arrow McLaren SP said, “We don’t comment on active driver matters. Rest assured when we are in a position to confirm further details, we will.”
Following a dazzling debut at Sonoma in the 2018 finale, in which he qualified eighth, O’Ward was set to team with Colton Herta for Harding/Steinbrenner Racing in 2019. But budget concerns led to his being released just before the IndyCar season started, and he spent seven races running for Carlin before Red Bull snatched him up in May. Following an appearance in Formula 2, he was placed in the Japanese Super Formula category.
At the time that he joined Red Bull, O’Ward was expected to be awarded the Super License required to compete in Formula 1. But after eligibility points were reduced for his Indy Lights title due to the modest car count, the possibility of reaching F1 within the organization became remote. Continuing a relationship with no specific path to the top was deemed untenable.
“The FIA threw us both under the bus,” O’Ward said. “To be fairly honest, I need to go somewhere to earn good money, and F2 wasn’t going to be it. If I’m not going to make it in F1, I wanted to be in IndyCar. Dr. Marko calls me ‘Potato,’ and he called earlier, and said ‘Potato, it’s very hard because you have no Super License points,’ and there was no scenario [racing in Japan] that was going to give me a Super License. I couldn’t do anything [for them] without a Super License. I got signed because of that, and then everything went south.”
O’Ward could be the solution McLaren has been seeking in its return to IndyCar with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. After targeting O’Ward’s Indy Lights teammate Herta to lead the re-named Arrow McLaren SP outfit in 2020, a new contract with Andretti Autosport kept the two-time IndyCar race winner from changing teams.
Prior to being signed by Red Bull, O’Ward and Brown met for breakfast in April at Long Beach, and it’s believed O’Ward’s release from McLaren’s F1 rival could ease the path to helming the Chevy-powered IndyCar squad. Arrow McLaren SP has yet to confirm either of its full-time drivers, or its pilot for the third entry it will field at the Indianapolis 500
“I’ve learned that racing not always a nice sport and I’m very grateful to Red Bull for the opportunity,” said O’Ward, who was replaced by Red Bull junior driver Juri Vips in the Super Formula seat.
“It showed me the caliber of person that Dr. Marko is and why he has so much success. Huge respect for him and whole team. He cared about my future, that means a lot. Things didn’t turn out like we expected, but he was concerned about my future, and that is very cool.”