Looking at the silly season a few months ago, everyone thought it revolved around Alexander Rossi and Andretti, and once that was settled, the season would be settled.
It turns out that when the Andretti extension and Rossi’s extension with Andretti were announced July 27, that announcement only set other things in motion. As a direct result of that extension (rumored to be for four seasons through 2022), McLaren took over Arrow Schmidt Peterson (more below) and switched them from Honda to Chevy. In addition to potentially uprooting Marcus Ericsson and James Hinchcliffe, it has given Honda two open engine leases that it could potentially re-assign for next year.
In an attempt to try to keep this discussion organized (and make it easier to update when something else happens), let’s look at this in chronological order.
Alexander Rossi is staying with Andretti Autosport and Andretti Autosport is renewing it’s contract with Honda. Shortly after the announcement, news reports confirmed what we reported last month: There was some danger of losing Andretti Autosport to Chevy through the involvement of McLaren, though I am not convinced that Rossi was ever going to Chevy after talks with Penske broke off.
Let’s start off with Penske’s involvement. Prior to the Grand Prix of Indy road course race and the Indy 500, Team Penske was talking to Rossi about replacing Simon Pagenaud with Rossi. After Pagenaud won the Grand Prix of Indy, the pole for the Indy 500 and the Indy 500, Penske announced that the team was retaining Pagenaud. The discussions with Rossi ended when it became for a new fourth Penske car, instead of one of the existing cars. Rossi wasn’t interested in that kind of team building exercise and talks broke off.
McLaren has been talking to Andretti about partnering for the better part of two years. The concept was for McLaren to essentially take over the Harding-Steinbrenner team and partner with Andretti as Harding does now. Honda is not ready to do business with McLaren and said “no”. Andretti looked at partnering with Chevy and McLaren, but eventually decided that staying with Honda and retaining Rossi was a better long-term option.
Arrow McLaren SP Chevy. Concurrently with discussions with Andretti, McLaren was talking to Arrow Schmidt Peterson, and came to a working agreement shortly after the Andretti announcement. The interesting factor is that Arrow Schmidt Peterson had contracts with Honda and James Hinchcliffe that ran through the 2020 season. It is our understanding that Schmidt’s first choice was to remain with Honda, but Honda spiked that idea and the new Arrow-McLaren SP deal is with Chevy power. no drivers were announced, although Hinchcliffe is still under contract with the team. While the team has said that they will honor that contract and Hinch has said he looks forward to re-kindling his old relationship with Chevy, very few people believe that.
This all leaves a bunch of questions for the rest of the silly season.
What’s the deal with Hinch? Hinchcliffe has personal services deals with Honda Canada and American Honda. He is one of the faces of the brand. There is no way he will drive for a competitor (especially McLaren) and retain either of those side gigs. It has been rumored that his representatives were talking to Honda teams in the paddock, looking for soft landing possibilities. There would probably be some Honda concessions with Hiring Hinch, similar to Honda’s support of Takuma Sato, but probably not to the level Honda supports Rossi or Dixon. I would expect Hinch’s future to be decided soon, when he either announces that he is joining another team, or McLaren decides to buy him out.
Who’s going to drive for McLaren? I would bet the farm that Felipe Nasr will be one of the drivers. The other is likely to be one of Nicholas Latife (son of one of the McLaren investors and competing in GP2), Pato O’Ward (competing in SuperFormula for Red Bull), Santino Ferrucci or a couple of others. One of those other might be Scott Dixon, who was romanced by McLaren last season. I don’t think it will be either Ericsson (who is a free agent) or Hinchcliffe.
What about Colton Herta?
Everyone in the paddock seems to think that Herta has signed to stay in the Andretti galaxy, either through a fifth Andretti Car or remaining with Harding-Steinbrenner supported by Andretti.
Who will MSR partner with? Since Meyer Shank Racing is a Honda team, they will no longer be able to maintain their technical partnership with the team that is now Arrow-McLaren. There are two options for them: Andretti, which the team partnered with in its first year, and Ganassi which is likely to develop a partnership program once its Ford GT program ends this fall.
What happens to the two engine leases that were assigned to Arrow-SPM? There are several things that could happen to the engine leases that Arrow is no longer using:
- Honda could just cut back. HPD has been bumping up against capacity constraints this season, and they could just cut back. Doing that would save HPD about $1 million in subsidies.
- Allocate one or both to existing teams. RLLR is making noise about having a third car next season in addition to the Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato cars. That could possibly be a car for Hinchcliffe, but also could be a car got Spencer Pigot (Currently with Ed Carpenter Racing). It is also thought that Ganassi might be interested in a third car.
- Swipe a Chevy team. I think this would have to be more than just a tit-for-tat move. It would have to accomplish something to make the overall Honda effort stronger. If that is the case, there is only one Chevy team that I would go after: Ed Carpenter Racing. Remember that Honda’s number one goal in Indycar is to win the 500. And ECR is always one of the strongest teams in that race. The pitch I would make is that to compete with Penske, you have to run something other than what Penske runs. Ed Carpenter is 38. He only has so many shots at winning this race.
Where does everyone end when the music stops? This is what I see on August 14:
- Penske stand pat with Newgarden, Power and Pagenaud.
- Ganassi stand pat with Dixon and Rosenqvist.
- Dale Coyne will have Ferrucci and Sebastien Bourdais
- Andretti will have five cars, one way or the other, for Rossi, Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Marco Andretti.
Now to the teams that may change:
- McLaren will settle on Felipe Nasr and Pato O’Ward.
- Going out on a limb, I will predict that RLLR will expand to three cars for Sato, Rahal and … Spencer Pigot.
- Venturing further out, I’ll say Ed Carpenter Racing will move to Honda, and Run Ed Jones and Ed Carpenter in the 20 car, and run James Hinchcliffe in the 21.
- Carlin would like to move to Honda, but I am not so sure the feeling is mutual. I think HPD would need to be assured of the financial backing of the team in order to make that move.
- AJ Foyt racing will likely continue to run Tony Kanaan in one car, but to cover this team adequately would require a post of its own.
It looks like Oliver Askew will be driving for someone for some races using his Indy Lights Scholarship money. But for whom, I am not sure.
The big shoe to drop is Hinchcliffe. The danger there is that after his expected release from McLaren, there may not be a full-season seat open for him.
CAVEAT: All this could change by the time you are done reading this. Pay close attention the next three Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. That’s when announcements usually take place.