McLaren has partnered with Arrow Electronics in order to launch a full-time IndyCar program for the 2020 season. There’s just one problem: everything seems like it’s been a complete and total mess. If you’ve missed one part of the drama, you’ve missed ‘em all.
Arrow Electronics, the technology firm that had previously only been a lower-tier sponsor for Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, announced that it would become the title sponsor for the team. The team confirmed James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson as full-time drivers, with the #6 car still reserved for Robert Wickens should he recover enough from his 2018 accident to compete.
Back in August, McLaren announced its plans to go full time in IndyCar after partnering up with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. At the same time, they also announced a partnership with Chevrolet. Current drivers Marcus Ericsson and James Hinchcliffe were not confirmed as drivers, but there was a strong implication that the team would be retaining Hinchcliffe.
Here’s where things start to get interesting. Arrow SPM had previously been sponsored by Honda. James Hinchcliffe is very firmly a Honda-sponsored driver (you may have even seen his Honda commercials). In order for Hinchcliffe to join up with McLaren, he would have to renounce his Honda ties—but there was a chance it could happen.
Hinchcliffe, though, was contracted to SPM through 2020, and the McLaren buyout meant the team also purchased the contract. It was believed they would honor it.
A lot of rumors started flying. Would Fernando Alonso compete full time? People wondered if Conor Daly would earn the seat alongside Hinchcliffe. At that point, anything could have happened.
James Hinchcliffe was one of the athletes photographed for 2019's Sports Illustrated Body Issue. The whole point here was to highlight the scars from his 2015 Indy 500 practice accident as a way to talk about his journey through recovery and getting back into the car by the end of that year.
Buried in an AP article by Jenna Fryer, though, was a pretty interesting conflict that most fans had no idea was happening behind the scenes:
Hinchcliffe had agreed to be part of the popular annual issue to show the many scars from his near-fatal 2015 crash at Indy. He nearly bled to death and has made promoting blood drives part of his platform. But Arrow was blindsided by his participation and didn’t like its logos in the photographs. The episode led to president Jon Flack’s departure last week, as well as the team public relations representative.
This was the first that people were hearing of this conflict—but if you looked at the Body Issue photos, any Arrow logo had been firmly scrubbed off the car. That didn’t bode particularly well for Hinch, considering his being retained at McLaren likely depended in part on having good relations with Arrow.
Conor Daly, who had been rumored to take the Arrow McLaren seat, was confirmed as no longer being considered by the team. Rumors still include Hinchcliffe as an option for the seat. Oliver Askew becomes an ever more popular name. McLaren also considered Colton Herta after Marcus Ericsson’s move to Chip Ganassi Racing.
Racer leaked the rumor that James Hinchcliffe was totally out of contention at McLaren, with two full-season rookies, Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew, looking to be the popular choices instead.
O’Ward made a one-off IndyCar debut in 2018 and contested a few races in 2019 before being signed by the Red Bull Junior Program. Red Bull promptly sent him to Japan to compete in the Super Formula series with hopes of his advancing up the ladder into Formula One. But just six months after signing him, Red Bull cut O’Ward from its program. The FIA had reduced the amount of super license points that could be awarded for racing in IndyCar, leaving O’Ward with too few to race in F1. He immediately became the number one person of interest for Arrow McLaren.
Askew, on the other hand, has worked his way up the Road to Indy ladder for the past few years. After winning the Indy Lights championship in 2019, he would be guaranteed at least three races in the big leagues. McLaren opted to sign him for the whole season instead.
Arrow McLaren confirmed via Twitter that they would in fact be letting Hinchcliffe go. He is still contracted to the team but is apparently free to pursue other options. It also confirmed that O’Ward and Askew would be their full-time drivers.
The team also confirmed that it would be retaining Robert Wickens in his mentoring role with a potential seat still open for him should he return. Now, Fernando Alonso is back in the picture as a potential third car for the 2020 Indy 500.
Lots of people feel that Arrow McLaren did Hinchcliffe dirty, and they aren’t really wrong. There are currently very few seats left open for Hinchcliffe to pursue—something that would have been less of a problem had he been dropped from the team roster several months ago. Both seats at the struggling A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Carlin remain. There is one seat open at Ed Carpenter Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, and Meyer Shank Racing. Rumor suggests Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing could make a third seat available. Only two of those potential seats are Honda sponsored. Good pickings are slim.
Admittedly, Hinch hasn’t been at top form lately, either. Since returning from his 2015 accident, he’s had a best finish of tenth in the championship. But as a long time racer, fan favorite and human being, many people think he deserves a much better.
This situation has put the cutthroat politics of racing in full view, for better or for worse. But for those of you lost on the context of the Arrow McLaren drama, we hope you’ve gotten all caught up.