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Why driving Senna’s McLaren left O’Ward feeling ‘mad’

by Jack Benyon
3 min read

Pato O’Ward is “mad” that he wasn’t alive to see Ayrton Senna race his 1990 McLaren MP4/5B “beast” Formula 1 car, but called the experience of driving the machine himself last week “raw” and “frickin’ phenomenal”.

O’Ward was at the Velocity Invitational event at Laguna Seca last weekend – where Mario Andretti drove a 2011 McLaren F1 car following an offer from the racing team’s CEO Zak Brown – and wowed the crowds.

The Mexican driver has gained a reputation for having some of the fastest hands and best car control in the IndyCar field where he is a regular title contender.

Video footage emerging from last weekend’s event proves his style was made for the MP4/5B, which doesn’t have significant driver aids.

“I’m really grateful that I got to drive the F1 car this past weekend at Laguna Seca,” O’Ward told The Race.

“What a frickin’ beast. It’s short wheelbase, agile, the thing loves to move around. It’s H-pattern gearbox. Very light, low downforce compared to what the cars are now. So much power.

“I mean, it’s just so raw. It was frickin’ phenomenal.”

O’Ward has just come off the back of driving McLaren’s 2021 F1 car again, at Barcelona and the Red Bull Ring, where he felt he ended the two tests having given a good account of his abilities.


However, when talking about driving Senna’s car, the bubbly O’Ward lit up even more than usual.

Asked if there was something significant about testing this car, as it had raced before he was even born, O’Ward replied: “It makes me mad that I wasn’t alive to be able to see those racecars in action.

“Because you see how people talk about it, but I never experienced it and I never saw it.

San Marino Grand Prix Imola (ita) 11 13 05 1990

“The closest that I have is the onboards that still circle around.

“But man after I stepped into the car, and I drove it, and just how much respect there was back then. It felt like you were taming a beast, and you were facing death straight in the eyes every time you jumped in the car.

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“My shoulders were right up against the bodywork. You are literally in a rocketship and it’s like, things go sideways and you are screwed.

“It just emphasises how insane racing was back then, proper racecars and just gladiators of their time.

“I felt emotional inside of the car, it was a very different feeling than I’ve ever had in my life.

“As soon as I went out, for some reason, I felt… I don’t know if ‘at home’ is the right way to say it.

“But the way that the car just moved around and how raw it was, and how you could just throw the thing around and get on the power and the thing just goes, it’s just one of the best experiences I’ve ever had my life.

“For sure, the most special racecar I’ll ever drive in my life, just because of what it means and how it just represents what motorsports was.

“Just pure raw. No assists, no buttons, no nothing, just straight on, drive the living life out of it and just enjoy it. And I sure did.”

Oward Mclaren Senna 2

O’Ward even battled illness to get behind the wheel of the car at Laguna Seca, and although he wants to spend this off-season recharging after a busy 2021 and 2022, he said nothing would stop him driving the 1990 machine.

He will make his F1 weekend debut with McLaren in Friday practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand prix next month.

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