Are Two Bumped Teams Better as One?

Former polesitter James Hinchcliffe of the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team failed to qualify for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and qualified second-to-last in 2019. Two time F1 champ Fernando Alonso of Team McLaren failed to qualify in 2019. Now these two teams are joining together to share their experience at qualifying poorly or not at all at the biggest race of the year. Has anybody pointed out to them that they might want to hire somebody good at this?

And that’s just the start of a tangled web. McLaren insulted Honda in their F1 partnership, so the orange cars have only Chevies to choose from in IndyCar. With new partner Red Bull, Honda is already winning F1 races and McLaren is….well, improved, but not winning.

A stunned James Hinchcliffe following Bump Day qualifying at Indy in 2018

Hinchcliffe has 1) been a longtime Honda partner (in their TV commercials even), and 2) is the face of Arrow Schmidt Peterson. He won’t be able to do both in 2020, so what’s it gonna be?

Schmidt played off the Hinchcliffe problem as not a problem. “No, I mean, we really don’t,” Schmidt said about whether he saw an issue with keeping Hinchcliffe on board. “We don’t anticipate it having an effect on the final year of his contract as far as we’re concerned.”

But he also spoke a whole lot of what sounded like parting words and fleshing out why he may not be around anymore. “It’s one of those unfortunate things, when you do what’s best for the team, but the relationship with Honda Canada and American Honda was direct between James and them, and so we don’t even know, we don’t even know what those details were, what those obligations were.

“James has been a great asset to the team for the last five years. He’s a brilliant ambassador for all of our partners.”

Sounds more like a job reference than a guarantee to me, so expect to Hinch with a Honda team next year and NOT Arrow McLaren Racing SP (what the combined team is called) and their Chevies.
Gil de Ferran addresses the press after his team’s inevitable qualifying failure this past May

And yet Gil de Ferran, who aped along all this past May as if nothing was wrong with his McLaren team’s doomed effort, WILL be on board with the new team. “I’m super excited that McLaren has placed Gil de Ferran in sort of the head connect for us there,” said Schmidt. “With his championships in Indy car and Indy 500 victory (a string of success as a wheelman from 2000-2003, so at least 16 years ago), his long-term association with Roger Penske, his ownership of his own team that was successful, really excited to work with him as a major conduit in the McLaren situation.”

No mention of poor de Ferran’s deer-in-the-headlights look as the runaway train of failure bore down on his big budget effort just a few months ago.

“Our biggest challenge is the fact that we see a lot of opportunities, both on the technical side of the business and on the commercial side of the business, and I think we need to manage those opportunities carefully to not be overwhelmed,” said Schmidt, who doesn’t seem at all fazed at the possibility of being overwhelmed by losing while dazed by “commercial” opportunities. Did he see the haunted house that was Team McLaren’s swag trailer this past May?

It’s like the last two years never happened. And the metaphorical backslapping during the teleconference was audible as journos tripped over each other to fawn and ponder their own opportunities. At least they were smart enough to see that Schmidt’s current driver line-up of Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson was in jeopardy, despite dancing around the issue rather than addressing it directly. Pants were practically wetting at the thought of F1 cast-offs finding a home on the new team. “The phone has definitely been very active since we have announced, with all sorts of individuals,” said McLaren’s Zak Brown, who always seems like he’s trying to sell us something that he’s not sure he actually has.

Brown touted McLaren’s rich history with Chevrolet, which if I’m not mistaken ended in the early-to-mid ’70s when big block V8s were no longer competitive in Can Am. Nothing like referring to a low-tech partnership from over 45 years ago as having any sort of relevance to today, but I guess it does gloss over last May’s debacle which had one Chevrolet PR rep hanging their head and moaning “This is a disaster.”

“I’m very excited to hear that you’re going to be bringing the McLaren Orange back to the grid,” said one journo, despite the fact that McLaren Orange failed to actually make the grid. Apparently forgetting that it wasn’t the 1970s, the excitable journo went on: “And of course, I guess we’re all just assuming that with this effort, that it will be quite easy to field a third car for the 500 next year.”

It worked for Carlin! Fielding cars is super easy when you don’t actually have to race them.

story and photos by Tim Hailey
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