McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has spoken out about Arrow McLaren SP’s decision to drop James Hinchcliffe from its 2020 IndyCar team, but says the Canadian would be under consideration for an Indy 500 ride.
Hinchcliffe was originally named as one of Arrow McLaren SP’s drivers for 2020 but then lost his seat last week when the newly rebranded team opted for the young pairing of Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew. Following significant backlash from fans on social media, Brown says he understands the frustration but was excited by the long-term prospects of the past two Indy Lights champions.
“I’m well aware of the lack of popularity of the decision from James’ fanbase,” Brown said. “I totally get it. I think when I look through what are some of the comments, we commented that he was going to be in the car in 2020 and at the time we made those comments, he was going to be in the car in 2020.
“In business and racing things change. Business environments change, there are lots of stakeholders involved, and when Pato O’Ward came on the market — because we didn’t know what Red Bull were going to do with him and we tend to like drivers that Red Bull drops because we think they’re really good! — we decided in consultation with the stakeholders to take a long-range view on what we thought was best for the team.
“So to get Pato and Oliver, two drivers we think have superstar potential, we thought it was a tough decision but the right decision for the team. While we’re taking James out of the seat we’re honoring the balance of his contract, i.e. we’re going to continue to pay him. Obviously race car drivers like to race, so I understand his disappointment.
“There’s lots of sponsors out there, he’s hugely popular, he’s been backed by Honda for some time, so hopefully between Honda, the teams that have voiced some interest and sponsors he’ll be on the grid. We certainly hope to race him, but it was a decision based on what we thought was best for our race team long-term.”
Brown says the decision was made in full knowledge that it was likely to lead to criticism from fans.
“We understand how popular he is. We took the decision knowing that there were going to be some unhappy James fans and there certainly have been, but we also know that there’s a lot of people who are very excited to see the last two Indy Lights champions, the youngest driver lineup. I think a lot of people are going to be very excited to see how we perform in St. Pete and in the season.
“At the end of the day we’ve got to do what’s best for the team — and that isn’t necessarily always going to be what’s the most popular decision. For me what’s most important is I hope everyone embraces Oliver and Pato, and from what I’ve seen from fan reaction there are lots of disappointed fans but there is equally lots of excitement around that driver lineup.”
Arrow McLaren SP is expected to field a third car at Indianapolis, and Brown confirmed to RACER that if Hinchcliffe does not secure a full-time ride elsewhere, he would “absolutely be under consideration” for the additional seat.