McLaren preparing 2021 F1 car test programme for rookies

McLaren is to run a 2021 car test programme this year, in a bid to help youngsters like IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward get more Formula 1 mileage under their belt.

McLaren preparing 2021 F1 car test programme for rookies

The Woking-based team has long considered O’Ward a potential candidate to make the switch from American racing to F1 in the long term.

However, opportunities for him to drive F1 machinery have previously been quite limited, with his only run so far being in last year’s Abu Dhabi rookie test.

But with F1’s rules making it mandatory for teams to run rookies in at least two Friday practice sessions this year, O'Ward is likely to get some action on grand prix weekends in 2022.

McLaren wants to make sure he is as well prepared as possible for that, though, so has committed to running a test programme with a 2021 car to help the Mexican.

That option has opened thanks to a change in F1’s testing rules for 2022, with the FIA no longer banning teams from testing previous year’s cars as has been the case up until now.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown said that the new regulations meant his team would commit to testing its 2021 MCL35M for young drivers - with O'Ward a clear possibility for Friday running.

“In F1, for the first time in a while, because of the big rule change, you’re allowed to test last year’s car,” said Brown. “So we want to have a test programme like we used to have in the past.

“We have to put someone in for two [free practices on GP race weekends] by the F1 rules, but we haven’t decided who to put in. But he’s certainly a candidate.”

Brown said McLaren’s willingness to move someone like O’Ward from IndyCar to F1 would be more based on how they performed in a grand prix car, rather than their success on track in America.

Patricio O'Ward, McLaren

Patricio O'Ward, McLaren

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“When and if someone goes into F1, it’s going to be more about what they do in the F1 car, so that’s why we need to test.

"It’s not necessarily about winning here [in IndyCar], it would be about the F1 testing, comparing them to Lando [Norris] and Daniel [Ricciardo] and other drivers.

"That would be the driver of whoever we’d put in our F1 car whenever a seat became available.

“Winning the championship here won’t mean you’ll adapt to F1, just like not winning the championship here doesn’t mean you won’t adapt. And that’s why we’ve got this test programme going.”

While O’Ward is the most likely candidate to get some Friday running, Brown says other drivers are being considered – and there has been speculation Colton Herta could get a try out.

Asked if there was potentially another IndyCar driver aside from O’Ward in contention, Brown said: “There could be one in this paddock. Could be.”

Brown also answered a question asking if he was willing to help Michael Andretti and Herta get mileage, adding: “Colton? If he asked me nicely...I think Colton is someone who is very good. He’s been very impressive.”

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