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Pato O’Ward: ‘I want people to enjoy me in IndyCar’ despite still wanting to race in F1

Pato O'Ward doesn't think accomplishments in IndyCar have been given the proper respect they deserve but sees improvement compared to a few years ago. O'Ward also addresses the draw of Formula 1 for IndyCar drivers.

After testing his “dream” vehicle in the offseason, Pato O’Ward remains highly interested in eventually racing F1 but is also “very committed” to the NTT IndyCar Series for now.

The Arrow McLaren SP driver, who won twice last season (including his first victory at Texas Motor Speedway) while finishing third in the IndyCar points standings, said during a preseason news conference Monday that “right now I have one focus, and that one focus is IndyCar” while answering multiple questions about his racing future.

O’Ward, 22, tested a “ridiculously fast” Formula One car after the 2022 Abu Dhabi season finale for McLaren, which also holds a majority stake in the IndyCar team that fields his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet.

“I want to give these guys their first championship,” O’Ward said. “I’d love to give them their first (Indy 500 victory). This is what my focus is right now.

“Who knows if F1 will be an option or won’t be an option? Obviously, if it comes about, I will 100 percent take it and every single driver in my position would do it because it’s Formula 1. That’s what I grew up watching and that’s what I grew up dreaming of. That same dream that you have as a kid will never go away.

“Right now, I have a challenge here, and I want people to enjoy me in IndyCar. I want them to know what IndyCar has to offer. I want them to enjoy me in IndyCar, the racing. There’s so many cool things about it that so many people (say), ‘Oh, Pato went to Formula 1.’ Well, I will tell you whenever I go to Formula 1, if I ever got to Formula 1, but for now enjoy me in IndyCar.”

The Mexican driver was on an F1 track until 2019 when a relationship ended with Red Bull after he raced in F2 and Super Formula. O’Ward has been open about his desire to race F1 if the opportunity arose again, particularly with McLaren having two seats in the series. Fellow IndyCar star Colton Herta also was linked to a possible move to F1 last year.

STAYING PUT: IndyCar champion Alex Palou has no interest in F1

“Those opportunities, you have to take whenever they come at you,” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in an interview last October. “It’s not like you can pick and choose (and say), ‘Oh, no, let me win the championship in IndyCar first and then go.’ It’s like, mate, you can’t really choose. So you have to take it as they come. Sometimes it’s very rushed, and sometimes it’s going to play out perfectly in your favor. You never know. Or sometimes the opportunity never arises. So we’re both in a position where we just need to take it as things come to us.”

O’Ward said the F1 team was “very welcoming” during his test last month.

“Man, it was such a cool experience in Abu Dhabi and just all the preparation that I had before then, it was definitely just something very new,” O’Ward said. “But I think it’s just going to make me better in every way, and definitely trying to learn as much as I can from that side and try and bring stuff over here to try and just boost everything up because I feel like the little bits and pieces we can get from here and there are just going to help our performance and make us all better.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, who set up the F1 test after Pato O’Ward fulfilled a bet that he would win in IndyCar last year, has indicated O’Ward is a future candidate for an F1 ride, but the team would like him to become an IndyCar champion first.

O’Ward was in the 2021 title fight through the season finale, leading the points standings with three races remaining before coming up short to series champion Alex Palou. He is hoping to improve his consistency after a season with five podiums and five finishes of 13th or worse but said it’s too early to evaluate his team’s progress without having any offseason testing (there will be one session at Sebring International Raceway before the Feb. 27 season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida).

“It’s going to take all year to keep getting better and better and better,” he said. “I sure hope we can roll off the trucks better than what we had last year at certain tracks. I think that’s the biggest thing. If you roll off well, you’re in a pretty good position to have a good race.”