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Could Patricio O’Ward move to F1 in the future?

Written by Olly Radley, Edited by Morgan Holiday

In recent years, F1’s rookies have all climbed their way up the motorsport ladder to get there, progressing from karts, to the junior formula, to F1. Prior to this, it was also common to see a jump from Formula Renault or Formula 3 to F1. The same can’t be said for people coming from other series outside the ladder to F1. In fact it’s very rare for that to happen. That being said, it is possible, for example Pascal Wehrlein and Paul di Resta both got F1 drives after winning in DTM. Juan Pablo Montoya and 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve both had great F1 success after switching from IndyCar. The next of these ‘outsiders’ could likely come in the form of Patricio O’Ward, a man of young age, but of great success in America.

Patricio O’Ward or “Pato” as he’s more commonly known, was born in Monterrey, Mexico, schooled in San Antonio, Texas, and is of Irish descent. Monterrey is not only Pato’s hometown, but home to former Sauber and Haas F1 driver, Esteban Gutierrez who raced in F1 from 2013-2016.

Pato started karting competitively in 2005 aged just 6, competing in various Mexican and North American competitions. He was found to be a very competent karter, and inevitably was put up against some of America and Canada’s best young talent. The Florida Winter Tour was always his most fierce competition, where he’d have to race some of the best; the likes of Lance Stroll and Logan Sargeant often among the frontrunners. He never did quite beat the pair but always put up a fight with a best result of 3rd in 2009 aged just 9. By the time he hit 10 that same year, he’d already racked up several championships across Mexico and established himself as a brilliant prospect.

When he was just 13, Pato joined the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship and contested 5 events in the F2000 Pacific Championship, winning 4 of them. In 2014 and ‘15, O’Ward also dabbled in Formula Renault 1.6, Latam F2000, and French F4, with little success in each of them. The next step for Pato was Pro Mazda, or Indy Pro 2000 as it’s known now. Racing with Team Pelfrey, Pato was at the front but a winless season saw him place 6th overall and 4th out of the Rookies. Pato needed a big confidence boost to carry on up the Indy ladder. This came in the form of the NACAM F4 championship. In his 12 race spell in the series, Pato cleaned up on the track and destroyed the competition, 11 podiums and 6 wins, 4 of them coming consecutively, boosting his spirits heading into his second season in Pro Mazda. Facing off against Aaron Telitz, O’Ward seemed to get off the blocks as the faster of the two, with 6 wins to his name by race 8 of the season. The Mexican tailed off in the remainder, though, accumulating just 1 win, losing the championship by just shy of 30 points.

The next step after Pro 2000, would be IndyLights normally, but first we take a detour. O’Ward surprisingly took a venture into IMSA for 2017 as the only consistent competitor in the Prototype challenge class throughout the season with teammate James French. While this might sound quite unimpressive, Pato did take wins in every race bar the final round at Watkins Glen and strolled to the title. 2017’s IMSA success gave a lot of confidence heading into 2018, the season where people would really start to jot down the name Pato O’Ward. He joined the IndyLights series, the final stepping stone before IndyCar, with the Andretti team competing against the likes of Dalton Kellet, Aaron Telitz (the man who beat him to the title in Pro Mazda 2016), and his main competitor, Colton Herta.

2018 saw Pato face off against a very tough and strong rival in Colton Herta, the young man racing alongside him at Andretti. The season played out in 3 phases, the start, the middle, and the end, where they both swapped places at the front. The start belonged to Pato taking 3 wins in the first 4. Herta returned with 2 wins at Indianapolis road course going into the first oval of the season, where they’d both ended up neck and neck, separated by a sole point. The Indy Oval race didn’t play out quite right for Pato, with himself, Herta, Urrutia, and Kellet all fighting for the lead, and almost 4-wide into the first corner of the final lap. Going into the corner 3rd, Pato swooped around the outside of Urrutia to take second; tucked up nicely into Herta’s slipstream racing towards T2. O’Ward sensed a chance up the inside, went for the move but it was inevitably too early from the Mexican, leaving him wide onto the straight, his eagerness to snatch the lead leaving him unable to take first, finishing alongside Herta across the line in second, and with that, Herta had taken the championship lead. Herta held the lead for the next 3 events, going into the next oval race at Iowa, a race where both contenders perfectly understood their assignment, win the race, take the championship lead going into the final stretch of the season. Pato had done a good job to take pole position over Herta and managed the race perfectly to win it, taking the full 47 points and retaking the championship lead over Herta. From then on in, it was plain sailing for O’Ward, winning in Toronto and both Mid-Ohio races going into Herta’s final chance to retake the championship lead, Gateway. This was the final oval event and Herta’s last chance to overtake O’Ward in their battle but it was not to be for the American. O’Ward placed third behind Herta in second. Then, O’Ward wrapped up another double in Portland and finished the championship 44 points ahead of Herta. Remember back to 2016 in the Pro Mazda Championship when O’Ward lost the title to a poor back end of the campaign, and then skip forward to 2018 where O’Ward managed the championship brilliantly and showed major signs of improvement in both his driving and himself.

2019 was nothing special, just a few races in F2 and Super Formula to no avail and a short 7-race stint with Carlin in IndyCar, the smallest and unfortunately worst team on the grid with a P8 finish in his first race and a championship finish of 26th, while his old rival Colton Herta completed the whole season, placing 7th overall with the Harding team including 2 wins at COTA and Laguna Seca.

Pato would come back stronger, much stronger. In 2020 he joined McLaren Arrow SP and partnered Oliver Askew and Helio Castroneves, who shared the No.7 entry, as well as F1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who the team entered into the famous Indy 500. Neither Pato or Fernando had qualified for it last year, the only two to enter but not even qualify. McLaren were partnering with the Schmidt Peterson team, who were solid midfielders in IndyCar at that point. Herta, meanwhile, had stayed with Harding, who had joined Andretti, one of the biggest names in IndyCar. If Pato wanted to beat Colton, he’d have a tough job on his hands.Throughout the start of 2020, it became very apparent Pato didn’t have a good shot at the title, but nevertheless Pato went about the year, collecting consistent, solid-points scoring results, seldom finishing outside the Top 10. Throw in a handful of podiums spread across the term and you have yourself a fine first full year in IndyCar. Herta’s sole win at Mid-Ohio saw him beat Pato by just 5 points, a kick in the teeth despite a good campaign for O’Ward.

Now we’re in the present, in 2021. Now with teammate Felix Rosenqvist, Pato is really showing off his raw talent and natural ability, which has even attracted the eyes of certain F1 bosses. We’re approaching the final weekend of the IndyCar season, at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, where Pato goes into the race 35 points behind top of the championship, Alex Palou. The odds are slim, but he will still give it his all no doubt. Second place in his second full year is still not a bad result, though. Scott Dixon, 6 time IndyCar champion, took 3 years to win his first championship. Another one of his championship rivals Josef Newgarden took 6 years to finally win a championship, and at the tender age of 22, I’m sure Pato will have the opportunity to take the IndyCar crown.

The question is whether O’Ward could ever move to F1, and the answer is quite simply, yes. Like I mentioned before, the switch from IndyCar to F1 has been done before and it could be done again, this time by Pato. To be allowed to race in Formula 1, you need what’s known as an FIA Super License, which was introduced the year after Max Verstappen joined the sport at the tender age of 16. The premise of it is that you have to earn enough “points” on your license from competing in different series. You have to be 18 years old and have 40 points to qualify for one. O’Ward’s 2019 earned him nothing but his 2020 campaign earned 10 points for his license; while 2021’s almost nailed on 2nd place finish will earn him another 30. Obviously that in total is 40 points and so if he wants to, Pato can get a super license which can be renewed year by year.

The key phrase there though is “if he wants to”. In an Autosport interview in May this year, O’Ward revealed he is not pushing a move to F1 and that his “heart is in IndyCar”. One more thing he revealed, however, was that McLaren F1 and IndyCar boss Zak Brown has mentioned to him the idea of a switch and that if a spot came up, Zak “wants Pato in his team”.

It seems that Zak and Patricio are very close; so close in fact that Zak made a bet to Pato that if he won a race this season in IndyCar, Zak would let him test a McLaren F1 car at the post-season Abu Dhabi test. Pato held him to this bet, winning the Grand Prix of Texas just days after they agreed on the bet, and it’s been confirmed since that Patricio will test the 2022 Pirelli tyres at Abu Dhabi at the end of the year.

F1 Digital Presenter Will Buxton even said in an article on his fantasy 2025 grid that Patricio would make the switch after winning IndyCar and drive for McLaren in F1.

Patricio is only 22 and has his whole career ahead of him, so what will he do? Stay in IndyCar or move to F1? That’s it then and from me it’s bye for now.

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