One race into the 2022 season for the NTT IndyCar Series and uncertainty already looms over Pato O’Ward and his future at Arrow McLaren SP.
The combination of driver and team enjoyed a strong year in 2021, which saw O’Ward streak to his first-ever series victory at Texas Motor Speedway before collecting a second on the Streets of Detroit en route to finishing third in the championship.
However, during a Zoom call with the media on Thursday, the 22-year-old Mexican shared that his focus is on this weekend’s XPEL 375 at Texas and the rest of the 17-race schedule, but added people are “scouting out what my future is going to look like.”
“As of right now, I have a long championship ahead of me. I’m focused into truly delivering something that I want to be proud of, that I want the team to be proud of,” O’Ward said.
“Honestly, I love the group of people that I get to work with, the engineers, the mechanics. Honestly, it’s hard to say that I’ve met a group that’s more hard working than them. In the off-season they’ve tirelessly tried to find what we have been missing, right? Last year we had a great oval package. I’m looking forward to try to capitalize on that, having a great weekend this week.
“To be fairly honest with you, I’m fully focused in what I’m doing right now, which is driving and trying to do the best season that I can. My group of people is just scouting out what my future is going to look like. Yeah, that’s pretty much as much as I’ve got right now for you.”
Taylor Kiel, president of Arrow McLaren SP and race strategist for O’Ward, was also on the call and addressed if the situation is a distraction for the team.
“Look, it’s a blip on the radar, in my opinion,” Kiel said. “We’ve already addressed any of the rumors or otherwise with the team internally. I’ve got full confidence that everybody is focused and ready to perform at Texas. That’s really what’s important to me, that we’re ready to go. Everybody is here to win, everybody is here to do the job.
“Certainly internally we’re in a good place. I think that’s really all that matters to me. The external noise, everything that surrounds situations like this, it is what it is, it’s part of the sport. It’s on us to make sure we have our house in order, when news needs to come out, it comes out from us and we go from there.”
After winning at Texas last year, O’Ward was granted an opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car with McLaren at F1’s Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi. However, the McLaren F1 team announced last week Colton Herta, who drives for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar, as part of its developmental test program for 2022. For his part, O’Ward, who bested Herta to win the 2018 title in Indy Lights – IndyCar’s top developmental series, he knew Herta was part of McLaren’s plan “a couple of weeks back.”
Additionally, O’Ward confessed he is “not aware” of any future tests with McLaren at the moment.
NBC Sports attempted to learn the details of O’Ward’s contract with the team, since he is currently signed through 2023.
“I am currently under contract with McLaren,” said O’Ward. “Just like anything, there are scenarios that I could stay where I’m at or there could be scenarios where I could be in a different place.”
NBC Sports pressed further by asking if he would “be allowed to solicit other offers, and McLaren could probably match it? Is that where it stands?”
To which O’Ward was left hesitating briefly before smiling and saying, “Oh, man. You’re good. Bingo.”
As it stands, McLaren is the only team with a link between IndyCar and F1. However, Michael Andretti, Founder and CEO of Andretti Autosport, made an attempt last year to acquire a majority stake in Alfa Romeo and put Herta in a seat before seeing it stall out near the finish line. Undeterred, Andretti has now put in the paperwork to the FIA and is awaiting approval for a 2024 entry in F1 with ‘Andretti Global.’
With O’Ward having a known passion to compete in F1, he was asked by Motorsport.com if his future was reliant on being with an IndyCar team that could aid his chances for a potential move to F1.
“This passion that I have for motorsports, it started with Formula 1,” O’Ward said. “Of course, I’d be interested to be in Formula 1. But if the right opportunity arises and if I was able to extract the extra things that Formula 1 offers you as a professional, as an individual.
“I love IndyCar. I love IndyCar racing. I think the series is on a constant rise. I think it’s going to keep getting bigger and bigger. My job right now is to try and help that in getting it bigger, specifically in the Latin market. I think we’ve done a good job so far but I think it can still grow a lot. What I think people need to understand is, yes, I get it, Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsports. In terms of competition there is nothing harder than IndyCar because everything is closer to each other. We’ll see how the F1 unravels with the new regulation this year, all that stuff.
“There’s very limited seats. Many of the times, as we’ve seen in other forms of motorsports, it’s not about can you do it, but is there a seat available, is there someone that wants to put you in that seat. Honestly, it’s a lot of the things that I can’t really control. What I can control is trying to position myself in a place where I can see a future, in a place where my best chances, whether it’s in IndyCar or in Formula 1. Right now, to be fairly honest, IndyCar is where I’m at. I need to see what my best positioning is for what I want to achieve. Everybody in the sport wants to achieve the exact same thing, right? We want to win championships, races, 500s. … I think for me right now, I really don’t know what’s in store for me. I feel like a lot of things can shift.
“As quick as it might come, it can go away. It’s a moving puzzle in a way. So I think right now the most important thing for me is to focus on my season and kind of let everything else fall into their place, see what comes of it. I truly am kind of in the same place you guys are at. There’s just a lot of noise right now. I want to do a great season for the team that has been behind me for these past couple years. I think we’ve had a great 2020. We had an even better 2021. I want to raise the bar even again for 2022.”