Pato O’Ward ‘at a loss for words’ after ‘ridiculous’ Formula One test with McLaren

Pato O'Ward F1
Clive Rose/Getty Images
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Pato O’Ward finally achieved his career-long quest to drive a Formula One car Tuesday when McLaren put the IndyCar driver in a seat for the F1 Young Driver Test at Yas Marina Circuit.

The test was O’Ward’s reward from McLaren boss Zak Brown for winning his first career IndyCar race this season. Brown predicted ahead of the F1 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that the test would make O’Ward only want more, and he wasn’t wrong after O’Ward drove a car he said “bends the laws of physics.

“I’m at a loss of words,” O’Ward said. “The experience and the opportunity is rare, once in a lifetime, and wow, wow, these cars are ridiculous. I was expecting crazy and insane, and this is crazy and insane times 10. I thought the Indy car was fast, and my eyes, man, it was just crazy.

“This is the best experience I’ve ever had in a race car in my life. I don’t think anything has come close, in terms of driving.”

The Mexican driver has desperately wanted to be an F1 driver but his path ended in 2019 when Red Bull cut him from its program after six months. Red Bull had wanted O’Ward to move up the F1 ladder, and he raced a Formula 2 car and in Japan’s Super Formula category.

He suffered a setback in his pursuit of the super license needed to enter the world championship when the FIA reduced the number of points O’Ward had earned for winning the 2018 Indy Lights championship because of how few cars competed that season. Red Bull let him go, and Brown immediately snagged him to drive for Arrow McLaren SP in IndyCar.

He has spent two full seasons in IndyCar now, and this year won a pair of races and was in the championship fight all the way to the finale. He finished third in the standings.

O’Ward’s performance bonus was his long-awaited test in the McLaren and he completed 92 trips around Yas Marina Circuit. He was on the track with other young drivers, including Logan Sargeant, a 20-year-old American who tested for Williams.

“We’ve been very impressed with Pato’s speed, his attitude and how rapidly he’s learned,” said Andrea Stella, executive director of racing for McLaren.

Pato O'Ward F1
Pato O’Ward prepares to leave the garage during Formula 1 testing at Yas Marina Circuit (Clive Rose/Getty Images).

Pato O’Ward called the F1 car a “rocket ship” and marveled at the grip. His neck was aching by the end of the day, though, from the G forces and loads in the car.

“My neck is destroyed,” he said after making a qualifying run. “As soon as we put those softs (tires) on and we went through the fast corners … the issue was for me, I know where I lost some time, the corners where you are limited by your neck strength, which I knew was going to be a problem at the end of the day because this is completely different. It’s nuts compared to anything else that is available to drive out there.”

O’Ward tested alongside McLaren regular driver Daniel Ricciardo with Lando Norris watching. Norris, who has become friends with O’Ward, tests Wednesday and was eager to see how the IndyCar driver did.

“I think IndyCar and Formula One are extremely different end points and F1 is another level compared to IndyCar, basically everything in terms of speed, in terms of grip, downforce, technicality, everything,” Norris told The Associated Press. “I know how good of a driver he is, but I also know he’s an aggressive little driver, that’s not necessarily the thing you want when you get to Formula One.

“He might have to adjust his driving a bit, and whether that’s going to be good for him or bad for him, I’m not really sure,” Norris said. “One thing I know is he likes to be on the edge a lot of the time in life, especially with driving, and that’s not always the best thing.”

O’Ward does not have a super license, and both Ricciardo and Norris have contracts with McLaren. Brown said O’Ward will be in IndyCar for now.

“He’s very fast, he’s exceptionally talented. Formula One is a different world with the level of technology, so what I am most interested in is less about can he drive a Formula One car fast, I don’t have any doubts about that,” Brown told AP. “But how does he take in the information and all the simulation that you have to do in the race runs and the qualifying because a Formula One car, there’s a lot more for the driver to do than just drive.

“He’s definitely in IndyCar next year and is with us for the long term, so we’re going to take it one step at a time. But I can’t imagine it’s not going to whet his appetite to say I’d like to do that again.”

Yes, Pato O’Ward wants to do F1 again – “I told Zak, you are going to be spoiling me and I’m going to be annoying you after the test and I didn’t prove myself wrong,” – and he desperately did not want Tuesday to end.

But he won’t leave McLaren or change his present trajectory in an effort to get F1.

“I’m very happy where I am right now in IndyCar, I am going to be an IndyCar driver next year with Arrow McLaren,” O’Ward said. “If I do make a move over here, it’s going to be straight from IndyCar, I don’t plan to go to any junior (categories). It would be a move straight from IndyCar and I don’t think I would have an issue with it, I ended up (feeling) very at home (in the car).”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media

As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage