In the days following the Abu Dhabi season finale the teams stayed on to take part in the young driver test.
McLaren chose this as an opportunity to run its young IndyCar star Pato O’Ward in this year’s MCL35M fitted with the 2022-spec 18in tyres. O’Ward, 22, has raced this year for the Arrow McLaren SP team in IndyCar and took his first win in that series on his way to third in the championship points.
Post-race Tuesday in Abu Dhabi was his first experience of F1 and to say he was impressed would be an understatement: “I’m at a loss for words about today… the experience,” he said. “First of all the opportunity to drive a car like this is so rare… once in a lifetime. And wow, like… wow, these cars are ridiculous! I was expecting crazy and insane and this is crazy and insane times 10. What these cars are capable of is… I don’t know how. I thought the IndyCar was fast. It’s just crazy, I don’t know what else to say.
“Since the first lap as soon as I went out I felt the power, the grip, it does whatever you want it to do. When you take it to the limit there might be certain things that you want it to do a bit better but whenever you start tweaking it here and there, there’s so many things that you can be moving around on the wheel that help you get a better balance than what you currently might have.”
His best time was fourth quickest of the day, sitting around 1.5sec slower than McLaren’s usual driver Lando Norris managed during qualifying for the race.
“I didn’t get one lap of putting everything together,” he said, “which I know it’ll just come with time and just knowing the car a bit more and the tyre. But it just feels so good. The change of direction, the downforce, the stopping power. These cars bend the laws of physics.”