Racing Roundup: What is McLaren’s real motivation? Are Europeans better car racers?
Plus all the news
Last week, I noted in this Monday column that I saw an Arrow Electronics logo on a McLaren F1 car and I said it made me nervous.
Why? Because I was afraid McLaren was in the process of poaching a major sponsor from a team in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Poaching goes on all the time at that level of the sport. There is only a certain number of companies or individuals with deep enough pockets to hand over millions to F1 and IndyCar racing teams to spend like it was water from a tap.
But I was wrong. It doesn’t look like a sponsor has been poached. It looks like an entire team has been poached.
What started as – for about a millisecond – a collaborative working relationship between an established IndyCar team and a famous Formula One team became a takeover. Gone is the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team and we now have Arrow-McLaren Racing SP. And McLaren is in charge, calling the shots, and it’s going to be their way or the highway. Even Honda got the boot, with the new IndyCar team doing a quick deal with Chevrolet.
McLaren sent out a release that I received early Friday morning. It said the usual things and how everybody was looking forward to working together. Schmidt and Peterson both said how excited they were about the new arrangement and that they would be continuing in their current roles.
For 2019, maybe, but then Gil de Ferran is going to be – for want of a better word – IndyCar team principal going forward. So you have to wonder what Schmidt and Peterson are going to do?
Autosport.com had a story/analysis about the “merger” that was posted – how can I say this nicely – really quickly after the announcement that, in true Formula One fashion (see item below about this), put James Hinchcliffe on notice that it was unlikely he would continue with the team, primarily because he had “inextricable ties” with Honda Canada.
That is not correct. He has ties, but there is nothing in the arrangement holding him back from moving on. In fact, when Schmidt Peterson contracted to run engines provided by the U.S.-based Honda Performance Development, Hinch’s deal with Honda Canada was really just an opportunity for the Canadian company to sweeten up his pay packet.
Hinchcliffe himself set the record straight on that by releasing a statement saying he had a contract in place to drive for the team in 2020 and that he had raced Chevrolet engines previously so that wasn’t a big deal either.
This is all short-term stuff. It will straighten itself out, one way or another. But this is what I’m really concerned about.
McLaren raced in IndyCar before, from 1970 until 1979. They did it with one goal in mind – to win the Indianapolis 500, which happened once, in 1974, with Johnny Rutherford driving. When they didn’t win after that, they eventually lost interest and withdrew to concentrate on Formula One. Yes, it’s true they raced in other IndyCar races but the real reason they were there was the Indy 500.
They are now back for the same reason. Fernando Alonso wants to win the 500 and McLaren wants to help him do it. If they aren’t successful, and Alonso is no spring chicken, I fear they will once again drop out and this time they will take Arrow Electronics with them. And IndyCar will lose a team because at the end of this season, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will be no more.
One other thing: there was concern in some quarters that Canadian reporters weren’t invited to participate in a conference call about the “merger” that was held later on Friday. Other than Tweeting out that I wasn’t invited (there was a suggestion that some of us didn’t bother to call in), I frankly couldn’t have cared less.
These guys didn’t cure cancer. They are a bunch of car racers. In the grand scheme of things, what they did, or didn’t do, is if no real concern.
FLASH: Red Bull Racing announced today it had sent Pierre Gasly down to its Toro Rosso “B” team and promoted Alex Albon to partner Max Verstappen for the rest of the season. Will this be the only mid-season driver change? Who knows? But it’s F1 and nothing really surprises.
Moving right along, I – like most people – have a lot to do to make a living. I do a lot of traveling and I do a lot of writing. I’m busy.
I have a Facebook page. I keep getting emails suggesting I post something on it because people haven’t heard from me for awhile. I take a look at my Facebook page and it’s full to the brim with stuff that other people have put there. I don’t understand how that happens, but it does. (And by the way, I don’t care how it happens. I’m just making a statement.)
When I write something I think people might be interested in, I send out a Tweet. While I’m in Twitter, I scroll through to see what’s on my Twitter feed and I might retweet a thing or two. But I don’t really have time to get involved (and I sure am not going to get involved in anything having to do with politics, which can be the kiss of death for someone in my profession and which more than a few people in my profession don’t seem to realize).
But other people sure have time to get involved – apparently. I see people Tweeting away and I wonder how they have time to do their jobs. Somebody will say something provocative and then somebody else will jump in and reply and before you know it there’s a free-for-all.
As I said, I don’t have time.
Last week I wrote on this site about what I guessed will be the driver lineup in F1 next year. I suggested there were drivers in secondary series in Europe and a major-league series in North America who could perhaps do a better job than some of the people filling seats in F1 today. I sent out a Tweet. A guy replied by saying this: “Who in North American racing could make the jump to F1? How many times do we have to see guys like Michael Andretti, Cristiano da Matta and Sebastian Bourdais, amongst others, to know that drivers in American racing are not good enough for F1?”
I didn’t have time to argue. Still don’t. But here are some random thoughts and observations.
European kids grow up dreaming about winning the F1 world championship or the 24 Hours of Le Mans. North American kids want to win the Indianapolis or Daytona 500s. So road racing is in the European DNA; oval racing is in the DNA of North Americans. These are generalities; there are exceptions to each.
Speaking of exceptions, Dan Gurney, Masten Gregory, Richie Ginther, Phil Hill, Peter Revson and Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve were all North Americans and they all did pretty well for themselves in F1. But most of them (Gurney, Ginther, et al) had gone to Europe to start racing in sports cars and F3 or F2 so were known and accepted (most important) by the time they made it to the top.
The media play more of a role in European racing than many over here realize. The teams will use the media to send messages to their drivers. Toto Wolff used the media recently to scare the bejeezus out of poor Valtteri Bottas (who failed the test, unfortunately). If the media like you, they can sway opinions. Robert Kubica is back in F1 because of media. Here’s a guy who can’t use his right arm properly and yet he’s driving in F1. He was always a media darling. Michael Andretti, Alex Zanardi and Sebastian Bourdais (among others) were crucified by the F1 media. It’s no wonder they couldn’t handle the pressure.
Take Andretti. Everybody forgets that he finished third in his last Grand Prix for McLaren, the 1993 Italian GP. Finish on the podium in F1 and you have talent. But the European media had it in for him from the start, even making fun of his wife’s clothing style. He couldn’t wait to get out of there and back to CART, where he was respected. And Bourdais? He ran exactly two Grands Prix for Toro Rosso before the stories speculating on his future started appearing. That negativity followed him through that season and half the next before he was fired. He’s still bitter about that. And ask Zanardi what is was like for him. He’ll tell you. That man does not mince words.
Things at the top are different now but Bernie Ecclestone ran F1 until a few years ago and the master manipulator was at work in many ways. There was no way – and I emphasize no way – that a CART or IndyCar champion could ever do well in F1. Bernie would not allow it. There was one exception – Mario Andretti. Bernie figured he was an Italian anyway. And Enzo signed Gilles. Bernie never got into it with him. And Jacques? Bernie needed a name in F1, which was flat at the time. He got one.
Many Europeans are arrogant when it comes to the New World. The people who run the teams in F1 have a European bias: if it’s not European, it’s not good enough. Given a choice between a European and a North American, the European driver will get the nod every time.
Gene Haas got himself into hot water awhile ago when he said there wasn’t a driver in North America who was capable of driving in F1. By his own admission, Haas will tell you that he doesn’t know much about F1, so what was that about? Turns out the words that came out of Haas’s mouth were put there by his team manager, Guenther Steiner. Haas, like most CEOs, will automatically take the word of the guy he’s hired to do the work, despite evidence to the contrary.
And that’s why so many businesses, never mind Haas F1, are failing.
But speaking of Haas F1, it’s rich that a guy like Steiner will tell his boss there are no North Americans good enough to drive in F1 when his own No. 1 is a guy named Romain Grosjean. If it wasn’t so sad, I could bust a gut laughing about that one.
L.P Dumoulin won the 50th Grand Prix du Trois-Rivieres Sunday, with Alex Tagliani and J.F. Dumoulin second and third. It was the first time the Dumoulins appeared on a podium together. Bravo! . . . . . Versatile Parker Thompson won the second Canadian Touring Car Championship race of the weekend at Trois-Rivieres and clinched the CTCC GT Sport championship . . . . . Formula 1600 at Trois-Rivieres saw Zachary Vanier, Olivier Bedard and Bertrand Godin winners . . . . . Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Michigan, Austin Hill won the trucks race and at Mid-Ohio, Austin Cindric was first in the NASCAR Xfinity race there. . . . . . David Gravelle won the 49th Knoxville sprint car Nationals Saturday night. . . . . . And Clayton Johns reports that Ohsweken Speedway’s annual Christmas in August event continued its tradition of being a major success with dozens of new toys brought to the track to be donated to underprivileged children at Christmastime. All fans who brought a new toy for the event received half price general admission to the track. On the track, it was Mack DeMan scoring a win with the Kool Kidz-Corr/Pak 360 Sprint Cars as they made their return to the track for the first time since July 23 and Jesse Costa who claimed victory with the Strickland’s Brantford Chevrolet Crate Sprint Cars. For the stock cars, Logan Shwedyk won the main event for the Middleport Mechanical Thunder Stocks and Kyle Wert claimed his fifth checkered flag in the HRW Automotive Mini Stock feature.
By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca