Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Your questions for Robin should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: I love IndyCar; been a fan forever. My favorite driver of all time is Hinchtown! Where will he go? And how could there not have been any rumors about this tie-up between SPM and McLaren? Did you really know but were sworn to secrecy? Did this catch you off-guard? Is Hinch now the latest silly season target? Would Herta really leave the Andretti nest and go to McLaren/SPM? This is almost more juicy than the whole Rossi thing (another one of my favorites!) because it broke bombshell-style and now we are all scrambling to figure it out. Did the paddock see this coming? Do tell, Miller!
Paul Zajdel, Park Ridge, IL
RM: Derrick Walker and I try to have lunch as often as possible, and early last May he told me that McLaren was either going to buy into or buy out Arrow SPM. I didn’t give it much thought because of the Honda connection and, to be honest, I’d forgotten about it until Jim Ayello’s story in The Star. So Derrick says he’s done feeding me scoops because I’m a lost cause, and in this case, I have to agree. Please read last Monday’s silly season story on RACER.com, but Herta isn’t leaving Andretti. Michael could have farmed him out to McLaren had he gone with Chevrolet, because they would have been partners.
Q: How was McLaren able to get Arrow SPM to ditch its Honda deal (or vice versa) a year early? True, they get a fine team with excellent people, but no championship-contending drivers. I’m still quizzical as to why Mr. Brown couldn’t have done the same with Michael Andretti, who didn’t even have a Honda contract to rip up? You would have had RHR, Rossi, the Andretti family, and Colton Herta. McLaren in turn helps fill sponsor gaps for Rossi and Herta. Are we to assume that Honda gave Michael such a sweetheart deal that he punted on Zak and Chevy?
Greg in NJ
RM: Michael wanted to be partners with McLaren, but Chevrolet was the only option because Honda will not do business with McLaren after its F1 fallout. Zak made Michael a very substantial offer and it sounds like Andretti Autosport damn near became a Bowtie team again before Honda persuaded Michael to stay. McLaren made Sam an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Q: So, did we see the SPM/McLaren tie-in coming? What do you think is in store for Hinch and Rosenqvist? And please feel free to leak any info you may have. Thanks as usual.
Mike Talarico, Charlotte, NC
RM: I guess some people did, but not me. I think Arrow SPM was the obvious back-up plan for McLaren after Andretti stayed with Honda. Felix has a two-year deal and Hinch still has one year on his contract with Arrow SPM, which they say they will honor.
Q: I wonder what kind of odds you get on Hinch being back with McLaren SP in 2020? I know Hinch has an actual contract, but I’d put a bigger stack of money on Nasr being with the team next year before betting on Hinch. Anyhow your one-man silly season just got hit by a McLaren hurricane. I’m not holding my breath waiting on a full time effort from Fernando. That said, it seems MSR and Hinch got the short straws. Putting on your best Nostradamus hat, how does this all shake out?
RM: Yes, my one-man silly season story has been blown up with the McLaren merger, but I’m with you on Hinch, I don’t think he sticks around to be a lame duck. He’s a Honda ambassador and would be a nice fit in Rahal’s third car. As Marshall wrote last week, I think Mike Shank either goes back to Andretti, or maybe strikes up a partnership with Ganassi.
Q: I seem to always read about how Honda really loves and supports certain drivers. How come I never see this about Chevy? Are they just not as driver-centric? How many times I have heard ‘Honda wants to keep Rossi/Herta/Hinchcliffe’?
RM: Good question. I think Honda is a little more PR-centric or forthcoming about certain things (it put out a positive release about IndyCar going hybrid) while Chevrolet choses to keep its thoughts to itself. As for drivers, Honda’s unofficial pecking order was Dixon, Rossi and Wickens last year, and now I think Colton has joined it. Honda always helped pay driver’s salaries in the CART heydays while Chevy seemed to concentrate on teams like Roger Penske’s. That’s not to say it didn’t help fund certain drivers, but I think it was more through the team than individually.
Q: With McLaren merging with SPM, a lot of talk has centered around what happens to Hinchcliffe and Ericsson. These are fine drivers and I am sure both will wind up with competitive rides. My concern is, what happens to Robert Wickens in this merger? SPM had promised him a ride once he was able to come back, but what happens now? His desire to be a competitive driver again has inspired many, and it would be a crying shame if this merger shattered his hopes and dreams. Have you heard anything of what Robert’s future will be?
Dave, French Lick
RM: I think we just have to wait and see if Robert continues his amazing recovery and if driving an IndyCar again is feasible. I’m sure McLaren Arrow SP understands what an inspiring story this is and would be thrilled to provide a car when and if the time comes. I don’t think James or Marcus will be back in 2020 with the new-look team.