Pato O'Ward was blown away by his day at the wheel of McLaren's MCL35M at Yas Marina on Tuesday, calling his maiden experience onboard an F1 car "crazy and insane".
O'Ward was gifted the outing with McLaren in this week's post-season test in Abu Dhabi by McLaren Racing boss Zak Brown, who committed to offering the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar charger an F1 test for winning his first race in the NTT IndyCar Series, a feat duly achieved back in May at the Texas Motor Speedway.
The 22-year-old ran on Tuesday in the field of young drivers, meaning he was entrusted with a 2021-spec car while Daniel Ricciardo contributed to Pirelli's 18-inch-wheel program onboard McLaren's mule car.
O'Ward concluded the day fourth fastest, completing a total of 92 laps, and with a massive smile on his face that outdid Ricciardo's signature Aussie grin.
"I’m at a loss for words about today," O’Ward said. "But man, wow! Like, wow, these cars are ridiculous. I was expecting crazy and insane, and this is crazy and insane times 10!
"I thought the IndyCar was fast, and my eyes, I mean, it was just crazy. I don’t know what else to say.
"Since the first lap, as soon as I went out, I felt the power and the grip, the braking. The thing does whatever you want it to.
"What a great experience, and just what a car!"
O'Ward was on the pace from the outset, clocking in fastest in the morning segment of the session, but admitted he had struggled a bit physically and "didn't get everything together on one lap" because of F1's high G-forces.
"Man, my neck is destroyed," he said. "In the morning I got to a good point, but I did some race running before I got some quali runs in the end, and as soon as I put those softs on and went through the fast corners, my head was about to just fall off.
"The issue was for me, and I know where I lost some time, is in corners where you’re limited by your neck strength, which I knew was going to be a problem, at least at the end of the day.
"Because this is completely different, it’s nuts compared to anything else that is available to drive out there. My last few laps, I was looking down with my eyes, trying to see where I was going."
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) December 14, 2021
O'Ward reckoned the day had been a high point in his career in terms of driving experience.
"I don’t think anything has come close to it," added the two-time IndyCar winner.
"In terms of driving and feeling what it’s capable of, and feeling its limits, nothing comes close to this.
"The feeling an IndyCar gives you is crazy. But you get into this, and just the way it's able to do everything so fast and everything is so compressed, it’s like a video game. It’s unreal.
"But I have to say, to extract the last bit of it for sure, it takes a bit more commitment to the car. I for sure didn’t get to the limit of it in certain areas.
"It’s normal, it’ll take time to know what it’s capable of, to really get it there and not go over the limit. I didn’t want to just go, ‘I've got big balls, I’m going to send it!’ and end up in the wall."