McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown says grand prix practice sessions could be on Pato O’Ward’s agenda in 2022 after making a strong first impression in a Formula 1 car in Abu Dhabi.
O’Ward got to carry out a day of young driver testing for McLaren after the final race of the season as a result of a bet with Brown, who said the young Mexican would get to drive when he won his first IndyCar race. However, Brown told RACER that the test was more than just the result of him fulfilling that promise but also a desire to evaluate O’Ward’s potential in F1 machinery.
“I think any time you put a driver in your Formula 1 car, you only get so few test days and so few rookie days that you’re only going to put someone in that makes it a meaningful test,” Brown said. “So it was a nice little reward but we would only put him in the car to also understand how capable he is of driving a Formula 1 car.
“He did everything that we wanted him to do and expected him to do. He was extremely fast and brave but that didn’t surprise us. So we were more looking to see how does he adapt? Does he keep it on the island? How’s his feedback? And all of that, for his first run in the Formula 1 car, was very strong.”
While testing opportunities are limited, F1 teams have moved to open up more chances for rookies by making it mandatory for them to use such a driver in two FP1 sessions from 2022 onwards. Brown says it will come down to team principal Andreas Seidl to decide who would be best to have in the car, but he believes O’Ward is well-placed to do so, with the races in the United States and Mexico coming after the end of the IndyCar season.
“We have to run two FP1s next year. Ultimately it’s up to Andreas first and foremost to make a recommendation and take a view — of which, in the two years Andreas and I have been working together, I’ve always agreed with his recommendations and suggestions. We’ll do a full analysis — there’s some more rookie testing to be done so one step at a time, but a very good first step.”