O’Ward on “conservative” FP1 outing at F1 Abu Dhabi GP: “A smooth session compared to last year”

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The young Mexican driver and four-time race winner in IndyCar who had been confirmed on Thursday as one of McLaren’s 2024 reserve drivers, replaced Lando Norris in today’s FP1, in his second ever practice session with the team in Abu Dhabi.

His official Formula 1 debut hadn’t been a positive day for him, due to a car issue at the beginning of the session, which had allowed him to complete only 22 laps and set the eighteenth fastest time.

This time round, sporting the number 29 on the special livery designed by Nujood Al-Otaibi, it was a “smooth” day of running for O’Ward, who ended the session in P15 — 0.449s slower than teammate Oscar Piastri — is set to return in the car for the young driver test next week.

The IndyCar star commented on the highlight of his day, admitting to not being completely satisfied with his performance as he was holding back to avoid a potential crash by going to the limit.

“I think it was a smooth session, especially compared to my FP1 session last year.

“I always expect a lot from myself, and I think that in today’s situation I was very conservative.

Photo credits: McLaren F1 Team

“The main reason why is the team is fighting for a big spot in the championship, so you don’t want to go out there trying to be a hero and then look like an idiot, you know?”

With four second places in the 2023 IndyCar season, it’s been a quiet year for the Mexican talent. Ultimately, the coveted top spot eluded him, with O’Ward closing with a P4 in the drivers’ standings.

The 24-year-old is excited to have a proper go at it on Tuesday as he never felt close to the limit in specific areas during FP1.

“I’m excited to get back in the car on Tuesday and give it a proper push, really start pushing the limits of what the car is capable of.

“But I think that for the amount of laps, and for not knowing the car, it went fairly smooth.

“Obviously there is always more on the table. Like, I told the team that what’s missing really is me extracting more out of it, because I don’t think I was close to the limit of the car in specific areas,” he added, hyped for the upcoming opportunity of track time without the looming fear to destroy his team’s chances in the fight for P4 in the constructors’ standings.

Asked on the most challenging aspect of his Formula 1 weekend, the Arrow McLaren driver replied that his struggle wasn’t anymore related to the physical aspect, like it had been for his McLaren F1 debut in 2021 during the young driver tests. It was all about completing the session without destroying the car.

“I felt very at home with all the procedures and everything, for me it was more taking care of not my car, taking care of something that is not mine.”

His fears of crashing the car and having the team working overtime to fix it were heightened by Norris’ big crash in last weekend’s Las Vegas GP :

“And the guys had to rebuild a car after Vegas, then coming here and knowing that maybe we don’t have an infinite amount of parts, you always have those [thoughts] in the back of your head, you are always conscious about it, so you really think twice before you start risking it.

“Ultimately I think it was a good session, and I can’t wait op get back in the car on Tuesday. I wish it had been FP2, but I’ll have to wait a couple of days,” he summed up fairly content with how his day went and with the amount of good laps he was able to put under his belt.