IndyCar stars and McLaren proteges Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward will get their long-awaited chance to drive the McLaren MCL36. They will get their proper F1 experience of a Grand Prix weekend. It will first happen in Austin, where Alex Palou will get behind the wheel of the MCL36 in place of Daniel Ricciardo.
Then, four-time IndyCar race winner Pato O’Ward will step into the car of Lando Norris for the opening practice session of the closing round of the championship.
Both have gained experience with F1 machinery in private tests in Austria and Spain. They drove the MCL35M (McLaren’s 2021 contender) in a bid to get them acclimatized to the speed difference between Formula 1 and IndyCar.
By the way, previously, teams were only allowed to run a test car, which is at least two years old. Because of the recent overhaul in the formula, everyone can now use their contenders from last year.
Both Palou and O’Ward largely get their chance because of another new rule for this year. It aims to boost young drivers’ involvement in the sport. To make that possible, teams are obligated to give at least two free practice outings to drivers who have competed in no more than two Grand Prix.
Palou and O’Ward will join a roster of drivers, including Liam Lawson, Juri Vips, and Nyck de Vries, who have completed free practice outings. As a Mercedes reserve driver, de Vries has taken one of the slots of three teams on the grid – Mercedes, Aston Martin, and Williams.
Obviously, we can’t miss the fact that Alex Palou is the 2021 IndyCar champion. While he doesn’t share his comrade’s success, Pato O’Ward has four IndyCar wins to his name and is aspiring to be Mexico’s next big name in the world of open-wheel racing after Sergio Perez.
What did Andreas Seidl say about the pair
According to Formula1.com, Andreas Seidl, McLaren’s team principal, hasn’t missed the opportunity to express his excitement about Palou and O’Ward’s upcoming work inside the MCL36. He also said he was impressed with the pair’s results at the private testing.
On the other hand, he quickly downplays any lap time heroics by saying that helping the team in its preparation will be the main focus. There is no doubt, however, that we are all going to look at the timesheet. Especially since we’ll see more new names as teams need to fill their allocated free practice slots in the remaining four races.