Tuesday, August 2, 2022, will not go down as a favorite for McLaren Racing and its CEO Zac Brown.
The team’s new strategy of signing multiple drivers working for other teams, popular on social media for inappropriate reasons and the subject of countless derogatory memes, continues to cause confusion and ridicule over McLaren’s handling of future IndyCar and Formula One line-ups. 1.
If the McLaren-related drama involving Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou and the Spaniard’s active litigation over his dueling contracts to join the Ganassi and McLaren teams in 2023 haven’t distracted attention, fresh questions about whether McLaren has signed the reserve Alpine F1 driver Oscar Piastre, who will replace Daniel Ricciardo, added fuel to the team’s growing PR fire.
Somewhere in the middle of this conundrum is a racing season in which the on-track efforts of McLaren’s majority-owned Arrow McLaren SP team and McLaren’s F1 program would seemingly benefit from a lack of disruption.
With 13 of 17 races completed in the IndyCar Championship, Pat O’Ward is fifth in the drivers’ standings, while his close friend and teammate Felix Rosenqvist, who is likely to replace Palu if Ganassi loses his legal case, is ninth in the championship as the AMSP duo goes racing this weekend on the streets of Nashville.
Together, they did a good job of not letting the theatrics and instability caused by parent company AMSP destabilize their title bid. But with the new Piastre-Ricciardo wrinkle and questions about how and whether it might involve AMSP in some capacity should McLaren need to put Ricciardo in the seat, the mental toughness of IndyCar drivers is being challenged once again.
“So I realize I’m a piece of the puzzle in a way, but all my stuff with my new contract was resolved a couple of months ago,” O’Ward told RACER. “I feel like my life right now is as peaceful as it could be with all the things going on around the team. It has nothing to do with me. It’s just something that someone, not me, decided to play with. Instead of just making noise around the team, all we’re trying to do is calm them down. And I feel like I’ve gotten in a way where I can tone things down a little bit, just learning from my experiences over the last 10 to 12 months in contract negotiations. Actually, I don’t feel shocked at all.
“I think the person who makes the decisions about who they want to put in the car or not, which is Zach, is completely separate from the team itself with our mechanics and engineers. We’re all in a great place, I think, because Felix and I work so well together. We perform as best we can. I feel like I’m performing as well as I can for my career. We are helping the team grow and Felix and I have complete trust and transparency working together with our 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 consistently advocated for the Swede to remain in the No. 7 Chevy, and with recent comments where he shared a harsh and unfavorable assessment of Palu’s character, the Mexican made it clear to Brown that he wants to continue working with Rosenqvist next season as the team prepares to host Alexander Rossi in the new composition of AMSP.
Until the McLaren CEO makes a verdict on who will join O’Ward and Rossi, the 23-year-old AMSP team principal’s job is to make sure nothing derails the Indianapolis-based outfit’s quest to win its first IndyCar title.
“We’ve already done that by keeping our crews motivated, myself and Felix, and we’re trying to do our best to keep everyone focused,” added O’Ward. “It’s not our job to clean up a mess we didn’t make, but we’re part of a racing team and we’re drivers who want to win and that’s our job.
“I can say that our teams are doing great and we all work very well together, so it’s not something we’re willing to sacrifice. Once you calm down all the noise that isn’t our fault, it just allows everyone to continue working as we do without worrying about the other things that keep coming up. We know that worrying about it won’t help us. To go on and get that championship is all we can focus on and do. It’s just trying to make the team look good, at least on the track.”