Hinchcliffe & the Honda – McLaren Divorce

by The Earl of Indy, Robert Earl |

Over the next three weekends, I foresee James Hinchcliffe doing more dancing than he did when he was on Dancing with the Stars. He is going to have to answer questions about his parents splitting up. He is stuck in the middle of the divorce between Honda and McLaren that has been waging for years.

Will James Hinchcliffe be with the newly formed Arrow McLaren Racing SP in 2020?

His initial post on the day of the announcement said all the right things and was just vague enough.

My guess is NO.

My reason for thinking this has to do with Honda.

In the battle between manufacturers for 2019, the score is one to one.

One for Honda keeping Andretti Autosport in the fold.

One for Chevrolet getting the newly formed McLaren deal.

The tiebreaker of the year will be Hinchliffe, and Honda will probably do what it takes to stick it to McLaren.

Hinchcliffe has been the performance face of Honda, not only in Canada, but also in the United States. This partnership has been strong, and I would imagine that Honda will want to keep it this way.

Add to this that McLaren and Honda recently went through a nasty divorce in Formula One and it is a valid question regarding who gets the kids.

The one-time rosy relationship between McLaren and Honda that saw F1 championships for the likes of Aryton Senna never got back to its former glory following the pairs re-partnership in 2015. All of this came to a head in the 2017 F1 season highlighted by quotes like these from Fernando Alonso.

I have never raced with less power in my life.

Fernando Alonso – while driving a Honda power McLaren F1 car

Mind you; this was not an off the cuff statement. It was made in the middle of a race being broadcast around the world. Not the type of advertising that Honda wants.

Add to this the failure of the Honda powerplant for the Alonso / McLaren effort at the Indianapolis 500 that same year, and you can see that the relationship was beyond repair.

So much so that Sam Schmidt was forced to make one of the toughest decisions of his racing and ownership career.

Schmidt recently commented on the difficult decision that he was faced with when ending his multi-year relationship with Honda that included a year left on the contract between Schmidt and Honda.

Extremely difficult, you know, because there is that loyalty. There is that length of time and a lot of success, and at the end of the day, they are a great motorsports and OEM operator. When they aren’t winning, they do everything possible to win, so we wanted to stay in that camp. When you draw the line down the center of the paper and you put your pros and cons on each side, that was definitely a big negative to doing this deal. On the other side of the page, there was so many positives that it really was, you know, a no-brainer. At the end of the day, it’s just unfortunate, but it’s ultimately their decision.

Sam Schmidt

With all of the bad blood and with the competitive nature of Honda, do you think they are just going to rollover?

I believe the answer is no.

Shedding light on this was another statement from Sam Schmidt regarding the teams ongoing relationship with James Hinchcliffe.

James has been a great asset to the team for the last five years. He’s a brilliant ambassador for all of our partners. It’s one of those unfortunate things, when you do what’s best for the team, but the relationship with Honda Canada and American Honda was direct between James and them, and so we don’t even know — we don’t even know what those details were, what those obligations were. We don’t anticipate it having an effect on the final year of his contract as far as we’re concerned, but yeah, we’re excited to have him on our team.

Sam Schmidt

While Schmidt said all the right things about the contract, it was interesting to hear him say that the relationship between Honda and Hincliffe, both in Canada and US was between Hinch and Honda and that he didn’t even know the details of obligations.

Hinchcliffe is one of if not the most popular driver on the NTT IndyCar Series. His popularity in Canada is through the roof, still, 2nd only to either Paul Tracy or Greg Moore. Honda has made an investment and they will want to keep their spokesman in house.

So where does the Mayor of Hinchtown land in 2020?

The best bet is with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Bobby Rahal has been flirting with a 3rd team for years, and the already established relationship with Honda and Takuma Sato relationship with Honda Japan makes this an ideal landing spot.

Remember what Schmidt Said about Honda…

When they aren’t winning, they do everything possible to win.

Sam Schmidt

Contracts can be bought out. Agreements can be reached. This is so clear after Honda agreed to a financial payment for the end of the Arrow Schmidt contract for the 2020 year.

Bottom line as I see it. If Honda doesn’t do everything possible to keep Hinchcliffe in the fold, it will be an added pain to the already bitter McLaren / Honda divorce. Getting Hinch would be a fitting chapter of closure for this bitter split.

Time will tell. Until then, Hinchcliffe will be dancing and we will be waiting to see.,

I would love to hear your comments on this situation. What do you think will happen with James Hinchcliffe? Will he be with Arrow McLaren Racing SP or will Honda get him a seat on another team?