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: It’s good to see Patricio O’Ward is returning to IndyCar, but I’m a little confused about the Red Bull situation. The Indy Lights schedule and lineup is no secret, so why would Red Bull sign him when the Super License eligibility was at best in jeopardy (FIA has clear rules on obtaining it) and wasn’t even granted to him prior to the signing? O’Ward says FIA threw them under the bus, but it looks like Red Bull jumped the gun to me…
Randy Mizelle, Raleigh, NC
RM: To be clear, Pato isn’t officially back in an IndyCar ride yet, but Marshall and I think he’ll be with McLaren and SPAM next season. As for your Red Bull scenario, let’s hear from RACER’s F1 writer Chris Medland:
“I totally agree with the reader, to be honest. I think Red Bull were after special dispensation, and any promises were only ever verbal. The rules are pretty clear that the year he won Lights the series wouldn’t be eligible for points, so I think they took a chance in asking, potentially got lucky when someone suggested he’d be granted one and then Red Bull jumped early to secure him with McLaren sniffing around from an IndyCar POV in St. Pete. Whether you think the Super License rules are right is another matter, but until he physically had one I think both Pato and Red Bull must have known there was a risk.”
Q: Just read an article saying Pato is being replaced by another driver in his Super Formula seat! Article lacked details and it’s not clear if he left on his own or got the boot. With most if not all Indy and F1 seats filled, it would be sad to see him on the bench. Any insight?
RM: Read our RACER story (above) from last week. Pato was let go by Red Bull but is destined to be back on the IndyCar grid in 2020.
Q: Do you think McLaren holding onto Hinch is a way for them to get back at Honda and is more fallout from the F1 engine partnership fiasco than their really wanting Hinch as their driver? From the outside, McLaren do see a bit amateurish in this. The driver lineup is a mess, Indy last year speaks for itself, the constant waffling on whether it was even going to participate in the series, denials it would run the full season, to now kind of owning a team. Is there hope for them, or is this going to play out as one of the biggest disasters the sport has seen?
RM: Just the opposite. I think SPAM could release Hinch to Honda and maybe reduce the cost of their buyout. McLaren was counting on Colton Herta so they’ve been scrambling, but now I think Pato is going to be their driver and they’ll figure things out. I know some people seemed happy Alonso missed the show last May, but that baffles me because McLaren in IndyCar is a good thing.
Q: As someone following the McLaren/Schmidt marriage, I’m a bit confused by what I’m reading from you for their future drivers. Correct me if I’m wrong: Hinch is in for one more year (in McLaren/Chevy?), but is a lame duck, and you are hinting he may outright leave, but only for another Honda. McLaren and Hinch now seems like awkward marriage for the next year if it happens that way. Askew is the leading second driver, but nothing confirmed. Freddy Alonso is still in the picture for an Indy-only ride, but not likely to do a full season in IndyCar, and is now flirting with getting back into F1, though not with McLaren. (I thought he was done with F1…)
All of this sounds odd. Who is poo-pooing the Hinch/McLaren relationship? Honda? McLaren? Hinch? I’d think Hinch’s prospects, on paper, for a home-run season would be best under McLaren, even if he does have leave Honda. Why is it sour? (Does Honda pay Hinch’s SPM salary or something?) I also don’t see any other names of Hinch’s caliber out there for McLaren to consider, so why are they so wishy-washy on the guy? To me, Hinch’s lack of recent success in elevating the SPM team to a Penske/Ganassi/Andretti level has more to do with SPM shortcomings than Hinch’s driving.
Finally, as a general question, outside of the winner of Indy Lights and the $1 million they bring, why does there always seem to be a propensity for teams to bring in rookies instead of pulling up/promoting a talented, existing guy like Conor Daly? Likewise, wouldn’t teams like McLaren want to bring in a TK or Helio for a one- or two-year deal (which immediately gives them a legit chance to win) instead of throwing in a rookie who doesn’t have the all-star level experience to be competitive out of the box? I mean, look at the success model: Big Al in the late ’80s jumps into a topline Penske car in his late ’40s, and won Indy in 1987 and continued with Penske thereafter… with pretty damn good success… (Third in Indy 1988…)
Jim in New Mexico
RM: I can’t give you specifics, but Marshall and I heard all summer that Arrow SPM/Hinch relationship had gone south. Then McLaren buys in and doesn’t seem the least bit interested in The Mayor. Arrow evidently throws a wobbly when Hinch poses for ESPN’s magazine without informing them (why they wouldn’t like free national publicity escapes me) and threatens to give away his ride at Laguna Seca. Does that sound like a happy marriage?
Robert Wickens really spoiled Arrow SPM in 2018 and they were poised to join the Big 3 like Sam Schmidt was hoping. But they took a step back in 2019 without Wickens, and I think Hinch fell out of favor. Yes, he has a contract for 2020, but since when does that matter? Especially if both sides want out. I wrote last week that Honda of Canada still has Hinch in its budget for 2020 and he’s the face of Honda in North America, so why would he want to give that up if he could find another home? I don’t know why Conor can’t get a full-time job, but I do know that Helio is hoping for the fourth Penske car next May and T.K. is staying with Foyt.