Mexican driver Patricio O’Ward has sparked speculation that he could be among the front runners in line to pick up a 2020 race seat with the new Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team.
On Friday, Red Bull announced that it had released O'Ward from its junior development programme, and that the 20-year-old would be replaced in the Team Mugen Japanese Super Formula line-up by Jüri Vips with immediate effect.
But O'Ward has now told RACER.com that there is no ill-will between himself and Red Bull over the split, and that it was part of a bigger plan.
“My release from Red Bull was going to be November," he explained. "But Doctor Helmut Marko called and said, ‘Hey, you have options in IndyCar? Take it. That’s your future’.
"I really appreciated him doing that," O'Ward added, who has made eight starts in the US open wheel series so far. “It showed me the calibre of person that Doctor Marko is and why he has so much success.
"Huge respect for him and whole team," he added. "He cared about my future - that means a lot. Things didn’t turn out like we expected, but he was concerned about my future, and that is very cool.”
O'Ward said that the FIA's decision to reduce the number of superlicence points for winning the IndyLights junior championship - which he did in 2018 - meant there was now no way he would be able to accrue enough points to make it into F1.
“The FIA threw us both under the bus,” he sighed. “I’ve learned that racing not always a nice sport [but] I’m very grateful to Red Bull for the opportunity.
"Now I need to go somewhere to earn good money, and F2 wasn’t going to be it. If I’m not going to make it in F1, I wanted to be in IndyCar."
O'Ward made his IndyCar debut in the 2018 season finale at Sonoma with Harding Racing. This year he's taken part in seven races with the Carlin team, with a best finish of eighth place at the Circuit of the Americas.
O'Ward's decision to end his ties with Red Bull this week suggests that he's confident of a chance of a big promotion in IndyCar next year, with the seat at the new McLaren team one of the biggest prizes.
While he wasn't able to confirm what his plans were for next season, O'Ward teased: “Be patient, good things are coming.”
McLaren CEO Zak Brown - who had talks with O'Ward earlier this year before the youngster was signed by Red Bull - also resisted pressure to confirm or deny whether O'Ward was one of the names in contentino to race.
“We don’t comment on active driver matters," he stated. "Rest assured when we are in a position to confirm further details, we will.”
However Arrow McLaren SP general manager Taylor Kiel did boost speculation by telling Motorsport.com that a delegation from the Indianapolis-based squad would be present at next week's Mexican Grand Prix, as well as the United States Grand Prix at COTA.
“I think it’s really important to get our people down there and see how McLaren F1 operates on a race weekend."
But Kiel also stated that no firm decisions had yet been made about the team's line-up: “No, it has not. We don’t know who it is yet.”
McLaren is expected to hand one of its two full season seats to current Schmidt Peterson driver James Hinchcliffe. It will also add a third car for the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Colton Herta had initially been high on McLaren's list of possibilities, but the rookie has since been signed up in a multi-year deal with Andretti after winning two races in a spectacular maiden season.
IndyCar, McLaren, Patricio O’Ward