A lot can change in the course of a couple of months.
I mean, you had an IndyCar team that was attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 that couldn’t find the correct steering wheel for the car, who couldn’t convert metric to imperial measurements correctly, and who, the gravest mistake of all, could not get the right shade of papaya orange on their car.
Of course, I’m talking about McLaren.
This festival of errors led to their embarrassing defeat on qualifying weekend for the Indianapolis 500, where the mighty team that bragged about the number of sponsors they had ended up losing out to a Juncos team who basically rebuilt a car with spit and duct tape.
They and Fernando Alonso went home embarrassed. Some feared they were gone from IndyCar altogether. At the very least, many of us were under the impression that their full-time aspirations were shelved for 2020. It’s easy to be confused why many of us would think that when Zak Brown came out himself on May 29th and said that McLaren coming to IndyCar full-time was “highly unlikely” (via RACER Magazine).
Joke’s on us for listening I guess. Host Mike texted us in July that something may be in the works between SPM and McLaren. It took me about five minutes of laughing to calm down and basically tell Mike that he was probably talking to someone in the paddock who was trying to mess with him.
Welp, I was wrong.
From the laughingstock of the 2019 Indianapolis 500 to a solid foothold in a team on the rise within the IndyCar paddock for years to come, McLaren changed their landscape overnight.
They went from one of the greatest Formula 1 teams in history who entered the Indianapolis 500 twice in the last three years, to a team with a two-car full-time effort and a serious foothold, to the villains of IndyCar.
Wait, what? Villains?
Yes, the quickest way to get people to not like you is to string along a driver into believing he has a full-time seat only to fire him six weeks after the season finale. It doubly hurts when that driver is someone as beloved as James Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe said all the right things, did not bat an eye when his new job would require him to chose between Chevrolet or Honda, and was ready to provide his nine years of IndyCar experience to a team that would face many challenges during the upcoming season.
Or there’s Conor Daly. Daly, coming off a fantastic 2019 season in a ‘super-sub’ role driving for Andretti Autosport, Carlin, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the season, delivered some pace for all three teams. There was hope that Daly’s fast pace at Portland with SPM (despite being wrecked on the first lap of the race) would help make a case that he could succeed just as much in the car as a full-time driver.
Firing Hinch and bypassing Daly for 2019 IndyCar participant and 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and rookie / 2019 Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew was a slap in the face to these two and to many of the others who were being considered for the job.
You take all of this and combine it with the fact that Arrow McLaren SP has decided to keep Hinchcliffe under contract for 2020 (unless Hinch finds a ride somewhere else) to show up on race weekends and shake some hands with guests and chill in the hospitality area… You are really not going to make too many new fans with this strategy, especially since Hinchcliffe has a massive following around the motorsports world.
McLaren were an afterthought in the IndyCar world after the 2019 Indy 500. Now, they are perhaps the most hated figure/team IndyCar has had in quite some time.
I would argue that negative feelings towards a team/driver is almost good for the sport. IndyCar, in my opinion, needs more of this to help fans stay engaged with the sport.
Has IndyCar found a new villain in McLaren?