Zak Brown confirms O’Ward and Palou likely to run in FP1 after IndyCar season; Vesti in for Mercedes

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Zak Brown has confirmed that IndyCar drivers Alex Palou and Pato O’Ward are likely to be the rookie runners for McLaren once again in the two mandatory sessions after the summer break.

Photo credit: McLaren Racing

A rule was introduced in 2022 where all 10 teams must run a driver/or drivers in opening practice who has started two races or less in F1 on two occasions during the campaign.

Both drivers have already driven McLaren F1 cars in various tests and both appeared in FP1 sessions in the United States (Palou) and Abu Dhabi (O’Ward) at the end of last season for them.

Photo credit: McLaren Racing

“We have not yet made a final decision, but we have to use rookies in free practice. After the IndyCar finale at Laguna Seca in September, you will see them in the Formula 1 environment,” Brown said according to Speedweek.

O’Ward is currently driving for Arrow McLaren in IndyCar, with a dominant Palou currently at Chip Ganassi Racing and heading for a second championship. The Spaniard is expected to join Arrow McLaren next year if he doesn’t get an opportunity in F1.

Unsurprisingly, Brown believes both of them are capable of doing well in Formula One if they got the opportunity.

“I see no reason against it. We do not currently have a race seat available. I am absolutely convinced that both have Formula 1 potential.

“Palou’s form this season is by no means surprising, but nevertheless it is very impressive. He dominates IndyCar, where usually someone can’t be dominant. Pato [O’Ward] can also become a champion.”

At Mercedes, their junior driver Frederik Vesti will replace George Russell for FP1 as the Dane gets his first opportunity to compete in an official session during a Grand Prix weekend.

The 21-year-old Dane won the Formula Regional European Championship back in 2019. He finished 4th twice in the Formula 3 championship.

After a disappointing P9 in Formula 2 last year with ART, he moved across to Prema and is having a very strong campaign. He’s won 4 races, too.

However, he now trails Theo Pourchaire by 12 points in the standings with three rounds to go following a crash heading to the grid for the feature race at Spa.

Vesti said: “I’m incredibly proud to be doing the FP1 session in Mexico City with the Team – it’s a dream come true. To think in less than two months that I’ll be doing my first official Formula One session with Mercedes, who have won eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships, is amazing.

“This has been my dream since I was very young and something I’ve been fighting for through my whole junior career. It’s taken a lot of hard work, and this is a very important step for me on my journey. To be able to develop myself in an F1 car alongside some of the best drivers in the world is something I’m looking forward to.

“I want to thank Mercedes for this incredible opportunity, as well as my sponsors and manager for always believing in me. I can’t wait to be driving W14 for the first time.”

Photo credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team

Toto Wolff: “Fred has executed an impressive Formula 2 campaign so far this season. Driving in an FP1 session is the next step in his development and we’re looking forward to giving him that opportunity.

“He is a talented young driver, not only quick but thoughtful, and he understands exactly what the Team is looking for from him in the car. I am sure he will perform well and provide a solid starting point for our work over the weekend.”

Andrew Shovlin: “Fred acquitted himself faultlessly in the young driver test last year so we’re looking forward to having him in the car once again.

“He’s shown what he is capable of in F2 this year, combining strong pace with consistency. Fred has been part of the Team for several years now and has been a key part of our simulator development and set-up programme.

“We’re therefore looking forward to giving him his first running in an F1 session on a Grand Prix weekend; that will be another useful step in his development and prove useful in being able to correlate the real-world car with his work back in Brackley. I’m sure he will enjoy the experience.”