McLaren explain why Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou are involved in F1 project

Pato O'Ward arrives in the paddock. Abu Dhabi November 2022. Credit: Alamy
Pato O'Ward arrives in the paddock. Abu Dhabi November 2022. Credit: Alamy

Zak Brown has been giving the reasons why IndyCar drivers Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou are also involved in McLaren’s F1 project.

Of all the teams on the Formula 1 grid, it is McLaren who have fingers in the most pies with the papaya coloured car featuring in F1, IndyCar, Extreme E and from next year, Formula E.

They have also proven themselves very fluid when it comes to which driver participates in each series with O’Ward and Palou both having spent time in the F1 car last season.

But with Lando Norris tied down to a long-term deal and his new team-mate Oscar Piastri there for the foreseeable future, it has raised the question as to why the IndyCar drivers are involved in the F1 side of McLaren’s operations.

Brown has given the answer, stating it is a mixture of being prepared for anything but also helping the team develop.

“The testing programme is very, very important,” Brown said in reference to O’Ward and Palou’s runouts. “Pato is our IndyCar sensation. He’s won a handful of races for us.

“We have an obligation to Formula 1 to run two Free Practice Ones and we want to put in drivers that we think have Formula 1 potential because you never know what’s going to happen and what you might need.

“We also want drivers that can help us develop towards that weekend.

“So we’ve put Pato in his Free Practice One and then Alex Palou, who’s an IndyCar champion, has done his Free Practice One and did a fantastic job. He has also done quite a bit of testing.

“So I think you never know if the drivers can get COVID, you need reserve drivers, and we think those are two drivers that are in the McLaren family that have tremendous potential. So we want to give them good mileage, get them prepared for the Free Practice Ones and then see what the future holds.”

O’Ward has made no secret of his desire to race in Formula 1 and while he is not looking to move away from McLaren, he has recently suggested that he would be open to a switch from IndyCar if it bolstered his F1 prospects.

 

As to why McLaren have so many teams in so many different series, Brown said it was due to a belief that they can all learn from each other.

“With all these different forms of motor racing, there’s a lot I see in Formula 1 that they could learn from IndyCar and IndyCar can learn from Formula E and vice versa,” the American said.

“So I think having that perspective of all these different racing series gives you a chance to try things.

“A good example of that was in Formula 1. We did our iconic Gulf livery. Livery changes weren’t something that happened that often in Formula 1, in NASCAR, it happened all the time, so it was like, ‘I bet it’s gonna have good impact here’ and the fans loved it.

“So I think whether it’s through entertainment or bringing the drivers together, there’s a lot of cross pollination that we do with our family of drivers and our family of racing activities.”

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