Pato O’Ward believes he would be able to return to IndyCar in future if he ever gets the chance to race in Formula 1, so has to prioritize such a switch.
The Mexican is under a long-term contract with Arrow McLaren SP in IndyCar but has also tested for the F1 team and drove in FP1 at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this year. While McLaren has two young drivers in the race seats in the form of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, and O’Ward sees himself as a team leader in the United States, he says he’s still targeting an F1 move at some stage.
“I feel like I can always come back to IndyCar and the window of getting to Formula 1 is quite a bit narrower,” O’Ward said. “I’m already in IndyCar now and I feel like I’ve established myself as one of the title contenders every single year. I love IndyCar racing — it’s some of the best racing in the world, if not the best in terms of how competitive it is.
“But I grew up watching Formula 1 and I grew up with the F1 dream as many other drivers around the world, and that’s what kind of opened my love to so many other categories. So I’m still very keen to make the switch to Formula 1. Will it happen? When will it happen? I have no idea, but I have a great team behind me.
“I’m very excited for 2023 and really giving these guys over on the IndyCar side a championship that I feel like they deserve, an Indy 500 win that they deserve as well, and I would love to be the one to give that to them as I’ve helped lead the team for the past three years.
“We haven’t had the smoothest of years this 2022 but it wasn’t because of performances from us, it was just things that happen in racing — a problem here, a problem there — but in reality I feel like the performances were as good as they’ve ever been.
“We were arguably the best qualifier in the road courses every single year, qualifying in the Fast Six pretty much every single weekend, and that’s really hard to do in IndyCar. So I think all we can do is position ourselves to win races and stay consistent.
“In terms of Formula 1, it’s a crazy world and doors you think will open won’t, things you don’t think will open will, or maybe both. Or maybe both don’t! What I’ve learned is you can’t plan anything, you can’t even plan to the year. You can only plan what’s next.
“What’s next for me is hopefully winning more races and challenging for the championship in IndyCar as well as the Indy 500, and then will the opportunity open up? Of course if it does I’m going to be the first one to take it.”
While Alex Palou is likely to get track time in his role as a McLaren reserve driver in F1, O’Ward admits he doesn’t know if he’ll get an opportunity to drive the 2023 car or test a previous version.
“Next year is hard to say because my calendar is very intense from late April all the way to the end of September, so it’s really hard to fit pretty much anything in during those months. So it honestly shapes up depending on, ‘We can find a week here or a weekend here,’ but it’s very last-minute usually.”