O’Ward tuning out McLaren-related drama amid title quest

Tuesday, August 2, 2022, will not be remembered as a favorite for McLaren Racing and its CEO Zak Brown.

Trending on social media for all the wrong reasons, subjects of countless derogatory memes, the team’s new strategy of signing multiple drivers who are attached to other teams continues to foster confusion and ridicule over McLaren’s handling of its future IndyCar and Formula 1 lineups.

If the McLaren-related drama involving Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou and the active lawsuit involving the Spaniard over his dueling contracts to drive for Ganassi and McLaren in 2023 wasn’t enough of a distraction, new questions as to whether McLaren has signed Alpine F1 reserve driver Oscar Piastri to replace Daniel Ricciardo have added fuel to the team’s growing PR fire.

Somewhere in the middle of this conundrum, a season of racing is taking place where the on-track efforts of McLaren’s majority-owned Arrow McLaren SP team — and McLaren’s F1 program — would seemingly benefit from an absence of disruptions.

With 13 of 17 races complete in the IndyCar championship, Pato O’Ward holds fifth in the drivers’ standings and his close friend and teammate Felix Rosenqvist — who would likely be replaced by Palou if Ganassi loses its lawsuit — is ninth in the championship as the AMSP duo head into this weekend’s race on the streets of Nashville.

While both remain pieces of a puzzle, O’Ward and Rosenqvist continue to excel on track. Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Together, they’ve done a good job of keeping the theatrics and instability generated by AMSP’s parent company from destabilizing their title bid. But with the new Piastri-Ricciardo wrinkle and questions as to how and if it might involve AMSP in some capacity if McLaren needs to place Ricciardo in a seat, the mental fortitude of its IndyCar drivers is being tested once more.

“So, I get that I’m a piece of a puzzle in a way, but all my stuff with my new contract got settled a couple months ago,” O’Ward told RACER. “I feel like my life right now is as calm as it could seem with all the stuff going around the team. It has nothing to do with me. It’s just something that someone that’s not me is deciding to play around with. Rather than just make noise around the team, all we’re trying to do is quiet it down. And I feel like I’ve matured in a way where I can quiet things down quite a bit, just learning from my experience of the last 10-12 months with my contract talks. I actually don’t feel rattled at all.

“I think the person making the decisions on who they want to put in the car or not, which is Zak, is totally separate from the actual team itself with our mechanics and the engineers. We, I think, are all in a great place, because Felix and I are working great together. We’re performing the best we ever have. I feel like I’m performing the best I have in my career. We’re helping the team to grow, and there has been complete trust and transparency in Felix and me working together with out engineers.”

Rosenqvist has been through the wars for most of the year as his place in the Arrow McLaren SP program remains unconfirmed beyond 2022. O’Ward has been a constant advocate for the Swede to stay in the No. 7 Chevy, and with recent comments where he shared a blunt and unfavorable assessment of Palou’s character, the Mexican has made it clear to Brown that he wants to continue with Rosenqvist next season as the team prepares to welcome Alexander Rossi to a new entry at AMSP.

Until the McLaren CEO delivers his verdict on who will join O’Ward and Rossi, the task for AMSP’s 23-year-old team leader is to ensure that nothing derails the Indianapolis-based organization’s quest to win its first IndyCar title.

“We’ve already been doing that by keeping our crews motivated, me and Felix, and we’re trying to carry whatever we can to keep everyone focused,” O’Ward added. “It’s not our job to clean up a mess we didn’t create, but we’re part of a racing team, and we’re racing drivers that want to win, and that is our job.

“I can say our crews are sure as hell performing and we’re all just working really well together, so that’s not something we’re willing to sacrifice. Once you calm down all the noise that’s just not our fault, it just allows everyone to keep working like we have without worrying about the other stuff that keeps coming up. We know that worrying about it will do zero help to us. Going and getting that championship is all we can focus on and do. It’s just trying to make the team look good, at least, on track.”