F1: Palou, O’Ward to drive for McLaren in US and Abu Dhabi F1 FP1 sessions

IndyCar drivers Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou will drive for McLaren in upcoming Formula 1 free practice sessions as the team pencils in its mandatory FP1 rookie sessions.

Spanish driver Alex Palou will take part in the first free practice session at the 2022 United States Grand Prix for McLaren F1. Palou will drive Daniel’s car for the 60-minute session in Austin.

Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward beam over McLaren F car performance

Palou, the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, has an impressive motorsport career to date, including four wins and 15 podiums in INDYCAR, and third place in the 2019 Super Formula Championship.

Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward will also take part in a free practice session, driving Lando’s car at the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Mexican driver will take the wheel of the MCL36 after a successful season in INDYCAR, adding two wins and two podiums to his notable record in the series of two previous wins, seven podiums and the 2018 Indy Lights championship title.

Alex Palou said:

“I’m so excited to be making my F1 weekend debut. It’s great to be driving in the United States in front of fans that may have seen me race in INDYCAR. Having driven the 2021 McLaren MCL35M in a few tests now, I can’t wait to put the MCL36 through its paces. I look forward to helping the team in their preparation for the 2022 United States Grand Prix.”

Alex Palou

Pato O’Ward said:

“I can’t wait to get out on track in Abu Dhabi. I’ve developed as a driver and had a lot of fun testing last year’s car with the team, so it will be a great experience to drive the MCL36. Thank you McLaren F1 for the opportunity.”

Pato O’Ward

Andreas Seidl, Team Principal, said:

“We’re pleased to give Alex and Pato the opportunity to take part in free practice sessions with McLaren. With Alex’s great successes in INDYCAR, it will be useful for the team to get his feedback on the car and for us to continue to evaluate him as a driver.

“Alex and Pato impressed with their recent tests in Barcelona and Austria and we’re excited to offer them the experience in the MCL36. It’s a great chance for them to showcase their skills on Formula 1’s global stage, where the focus will be to help the team prepare for the race weekend and not on ultimate lap times.”

Pato might have seven months to wait until the start of the 2023 INDYCAR season, but there’s no such thing as too much

Pato climbed back behind the wheel of the MCL35 in Austria last week

practice, and there are few more enjoyable ways to keep one’s hand in than firing a Formula 1 car around the Austrian mountains.

Adding to his ever-growing mileage count in F1 machinery, Pato got back behind the wheel of the MCL35M at the Red Bull Ring in Austria as part of our Driver Development Program.

The Mexican racer shared driving duties with fellow INDYCAR challenger Alex Palou, the pair punching in 171 laps and 375km over the two days, increasing their understanding of the car and general adaptability as racers.

Pato O’Ward testing at the Red Bull Ring

“The more cars you test, the more experience you have in your memory bank of driving different cars and experiencing different feelings,” said Pato. “It makes you better in every way. It makes you more adaptable, and that is a useful skill for when you step into a car that is a bit more alien, and you need to adjust.

“We worked on a bit of everything: high-fuel, low-fuel, long-runs, short-runs, continuous laps, non-continuous laps, and all of that can go into the memory bank. I think that in every aspect, I keep getting better and better.

“I have really enjoyed the test and the track. It has some interesting characteristics with up and downhill sections, it is fast-flowing with hard braking zones and gives you a great appreciation of what an F1 car is all about.”

The test in Austria follows on from a similar outing in Spain just under a month ago, where Pato and Palou completed 1,242km and 267 laps at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The running will help to prepare the pair for their F1 race weekend debuts, with Palou set to drive Daniel’s MCL36 during FP1 at the US Grand Prix, whilst Pato will get behind the wheel of Lando’s car for FP1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“Every track is different,” Pato continued. “Every track responds to wind and temperature very differently. For example, Barcelona was a real tire eater and changes massively from the start to the end of the day.

“That is before adding wind into the equation, which can make it pretty hairy – it was a bit more friendly at the Red Bull Ring, which was very enjoyable. I had never reversed an F1 car before, but we did a reverse check, and I did that correctly. We also did some launches, which we didn’t do in Barcelona, and that went well too.”

Phil Thomas was the lead engineer for both tests and said he has been pleased with Pato’s progression in the MCL35M and the work that he had done away from the circuit.

“Pato has really impressed,” said Phil. “He has taken on board the lessons in how this car needs to be driven, which is quite different from what he has driven in the past. He started strongly and clearly did a lot of thinking during and after his Barcelona test, which has allowed him to exploit the car in this test.

“A lot of this test has been based on carrying over the work we did in Barcelona. We set a really good foundation there with both drivers, and we are now just trying to see how they take that learning to the track and how they adapt to different circuits.”

Palou tested in Spain

Álex Palou discusses his F1 testing debut as part of the TPC program at Barcelona

Very few people ever get a taste of Formula 1 machinery, and Alex Palou expressed his delight at joining the minority, saying that he hadn’t expected to get the opportunity, especially not on home turf in Spain.

Alex Palou testing in Barcelona

The 2021 INDYCAR champion made his F1 testing debut at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the MCL35M as part of our TPC (Testing of Previous Cars) program last week, hailing the experience as “really special.”

The 25-year-old Spanish racer was announced as a member of our TPC program ahead of the outing and took to the cockpit of our 2021 F1 car just three days after winning the INDYCAR season finale.

“Unreal – really special. This has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” he said. “I didn’t think that I would ever have the chance to drive an F1 car, so to have the opportunity to drive one is really special. On top of that, getting to drive it at home makes it twice as special.

“I grew up coming to this circuit and visiting the testing days with my dad, so being able to drive an F1 car around Barcelona has been pretty special.

“I have been lucky enough to race in Europe, Japan, and the US, but it is great to come back to Europe and learn from an F1 team. There is so much that I can learn, and I cannot wait to continue.”

Álex has spent the past three years racing in INDYCAR, winning the 2021 championship title with three victories, seven podiums and two poles. The Spaniard also has race-winning experience in Super Formula, GP3 and Euroformula Open.

As well as winning the 2022 INDYCAR season finale, Álex took five top-three finishes. He entered his maiden F1 test full of confidence, albeit with little idea of what to truly expect, explaining that no amount of preparation can ready you for driving an F1 car.

“I tried to prepare myself as much as possible, but at the same time, I don’t think I could have prepared for this without having driven a car before, but now I know what I need to do to prepare. I just wanted to have fun and embrace every moment.”

Álex shared testing duties with Pato O’Ward, the duo completing 1242.2km and 267 laps in total, and undertaking a mixture of long and short runs.

Asked what surprised him the most about the switch in car, Álex said: “Everything! I would probably say the level of grip and the general capability of the car – being able to brake so late and still having amazing balance on the corners.

“The car is super-fast, and of course, I am impressed by how fast these cars can go, but you kind of get used to that. The level of grip, however, even after 100 laps, my body would still tell me every time I approach a corner, ‘no, no, no, there is no way’ – but you can do it, and even more.

“Power-wise, it is crazy – the amount of power, the grip, and the downforce is insane. Weight-wise, I think it is similar, but you go so fast, and there is so much downforce. We have power steering in F1, but we don’t in INDYCAR, which makes a big difference.

“They are both physically demanding, but in different ways. An F1 car is more about strength in the neck and the g-forces, but it is easier on the arms. In INDYCAR, it is so demanding on your arms but easier on your neck.

“The amount of detail on the F1 cars is insane. So to start with, it was just about getting comfortable with the speed and downforce.”

Phil Thomas, the lead TPC engineer for the test, spoke highly of both Álex and Pato, adding: “They have both been working really hard and were excited for the opportunity. They have both made the most of it, and I am impressed with what they have done so far.”

The pair’s eagerness to learn has proven beneficial not just in how to handle an F1 car, but in different conditions. Phil continued: “They got to do some quali runs, some race runs, and some practice runs. It’s the variety that will benefit them more than anything. They got stuck into the detailed improvements of driving and made really good progress.”

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