The world of Formula 1 will welcome a familiar face at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. McLaren have officially announced that Pato O’Ward, the rising star of the IndyCar series, will take the wheel during Free Practice 1 (FP1) at the season-ending race.
This won’t be O’Ward’s first dance with Formula 1, having made his debut at the same event last season. However, his return is more than just another guest appearance; it’s a testament to his impressive performances in the IndyCar series and a potential step closer to securing an F1 super-licence.
A second chance: O’Ward returns to F1 stage
Pato O’Ward’s return to the Formula 1 stage is no coincidence. After an impressive outing in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last season, McLaren recognised his potential and decided to give him another chance. This time, O’Ward will not only take part in FP1, but will also be involved in post-season testing – a testament to McLaren’s growing confidence in his abilities.
Impressive stint in IndyCar
O’Ward’s path to the F1 paddock has been paved with outstanding performances in the fiercely competitive world of IndyCar. Last season, the Mexican finished fourth in the championship standings while racing for the Arrow McLaren team.
His consistent displays of skill and speed caught the eye of McLaren’s decision-makers, who began to believe that O’Ward was ready for the next step in his career – a shot at Formula One.
Quest for a superlicence
Securing a super licence is a crucial milestone for any aspiring Formula One driver. Required by the FIA to allow racing in F1 and prove the aspiring driver has enough top level racing experience and is ready to compete on the sport’s grandest stage.
O’Ward’s performances in the IndyCar series have convinced McLaren that he’s worthy of this privilege. Andrea Stella, McLaren’s Team Principal, said:
“We’re checking with the FIA; we think he’s now eligible for a super licence. So he’s qualified to drive a Formula One car and be able to be one of the [McLaren] reserve drivers.”
This recognition is a significant step towards O’Ward’s dream of becoming a full-fledged Formula One driver.
New FIA regulations
Formula 1 underwent rule changes at the start of the 2022 season, including regulations that require all teams to give rookie drivers the opportunity to participate in at least two practice sessions. The inclusion of this rule has opened doors for talents like O’Ward, allowing them to prove their skills on the Formula One stage.
Oscar Piastri, in his debut F1 season, fulfilled one of these quotas earlier this year. Now it’s O’Ward’s turn to fulfil the second.
Looking to the future
McLaren’s decision to bring Pato O’Ward back to the F1 grid isn’t just a nod to his talent – it’s a glimpse into the potential future of the sport. As teams like McLaren recognise the value of talent from across the racing world, the barriers that once separated IndyCar from F1 are beginning to blur as the team’s American CEO Zak Brown is keen to prove.
When O’Ward returns to the Formula 1 stage at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the racing world will be watching with anticipation. Will O’Ward’s impressive performances pave the way for a more permanent role at the pinnacle of motorsport? Only time will tell, but certainly with the rise of Formula 1 in America in recent years, Indycar will no doubt want to prove that their series has drivers with enough talent to transition over to the pinnacle of motorsport.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 18, 2023
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