O’Ward ‘destroyed’ but blown away by F1 test debut

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O’Ward ‘destroyed’ but blown away by F1 test debut

Formula 1

O’Ward ‘destroyed’ but blown away by F1 test debut


Pato O’Ward was left physically demolished by the performance capabilities of the 2021 McLaren after driving a current Formula 1 car for the first time in the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown offered O’Ward the chance to test the MCL35M if he won his first IndyCar race this year, and duly kept his promise after an IndyCar season in which O’Ward secured two victories. Despite months of preparation and simulator time, the 22-year-old said he is struggling comprehend how the car can be so fast.

“I’m in loss of words about today,” O’Ward said. “The experience, and first of all the opportunity, is rare, once in a lifetime, but… wow! Like, wow! These cars are ridiculous. I was expecting crazy and insane, and this is crazy and insane times 10! The capabilities of what these cars are capable of is… I don’t know how.

“I thought the IndyCar was fast and… my eyes… it was just crazy, man, I don’t know what else to say. Since the first lap, as soon as I went out, I felt the power and the grip, the braking. The thing does whatever you want it to do.

“When you take it to the limit it might not be doing certain things you want it to do a bit better, but whenever you start tweaking it here and there, there’s so many things to help you get a better balance on what you currently might have or whatever. But, man, wow. Like, insane. What a great experience, and what a car!

“This is the best experience I’ve ever had in a race car in my life. I don’t think anything has come close to it in terms of driving, in terms of feeling what it’s capable of, in feeling its limits, nothing comes close to it. The feeling for example an IndyCar gives you is crazy, but you get into this and just the way it’s able to do everything so fast, and everything is so compressed, it’s like a video game. It’s unreal.

“I have to say to extract the last bit of it for sure it takes a lot more commitment with the car. I didn’t get to the limit in certain areas, I did in others. It’s normal, it’ll take time to build what it’s capable of and not go over the limit. I didn’t want to go ‘you know I’ve got big balls, let me just send it’ and end up in the wall.”

O’Ward did get time to run the softest tire compounds on low fuel late on Tuesday and ended up fourth overall – less than 0.1s off Liam Lawson in second place – but says his fitness is what cost him a quicker lap time.

“I’m a bit annoyed, as I know I had a bit more pace than what I ended with, at least with the soft, putting a lap together. I got a pretty solid one with mediums, the C4, but with the C5 I did three flyers but I did my best sectors on different laps so I didn’t get one lap of putting everything together, which I know would come with time and knowing the car and tires a bit more.

“It just feels so good! The change of direction, the downforce, the stopping power – it’s unlike anything. Nothing I’ve driven comes close to this. Not even a hint. It is unbelievable. So cool.

“Honestly,at the end of the day, another part where I didn’t get everything together on one lap is, I was about to lose my head. Man, my neck is destroyed. In the morning I got to a good point, but then we did some race running before we did some qualifying runs at the end, and as soon as we put the softs on and we went through the fast corners my head was about to (give up).

“The issue for me – and I know where I lost some time – is the corners where you’re limited by neck strength, which I knew was going to be a problem, at least at the end of the day, as it’s completely different to what’s available to drive out there. So my last few laps were definitely… I was like looking down with my eyes up, trying to see where I was going at 180mph, looking straight down in Turn 9!”