Will McLaren's IndyCar involvement hinder their F1 progress?
In what has been one of the worst kept secrets in the world of motorsport, McLaren finally announced their planned entry for a full-time season in IndyCar, starting in 2020. While we know the woking based team have a huge financial budget, and plenty of resources to spare, one has to wonder - will this fully focused effort to take over America have a damaging effect on their current upward progression in Formula One? Team Principal Zak Brown doesn't seem to think so, but it's going to have some form of knock on effect, that there is no doubt.
This news comes just over two months after McLaren's failed bid to even qualify for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in the team's history, and not even two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso could save McLaren's blushes at the Brickyard. But since Zak Brown took over daily operations of the team back in April 2018, he's made it no secret that he's wanted the iconic team to race in the IndyCar Series full-time. There are many questions that still need to be answered in the light of today's news however, with the most prominent being who will be the drivers to helm McLaren's attack. With that being said, they have revealed this news at the right time it seems, with the team embarking on their best season in in the turbo-hybrid era on F1, with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris thoroughly placing McLaren in the ascendency. But the question still remains - what effect will their new involvement in North America have on their F1 efforts?
Climbing back to the summit of Formula One
McLaren are going through somewhat of a purple patch at the moment, with the team currently sitting 4th in the constructors' standings. Of course this is nowhere near the level of what the team has experienced in days gone by, but knowing how the team have been performing for the last five seasons, this must feel like a victory for the once great team. The chemistry of Sainz and Norris, coupled with the no nonsense engineering approach from newly appointed lead engineer Andreas Seidl, the team are well and truly on their way back to winning ways. They've amassed 82 points already after just 12 rounds, with nine rounds still to run in 2019. And considering they only managed a total of 92 points in 2017 & 2018 combined, it's safe to say that McLaren are back in a big way, and it's the most refreshing thing to see.
Carlos Sainz scored his second 5th place finish in succession last weekend in Budapest, with a mature drive.
With nine races still to go this season, you really wouldn't bet against McLaren stealing a podium or two before the chequered flag falls in Abu Dhabi on December 1st. Everything seems to have taking a forward step, from the drivability of the Renault engine, to the functionality of the pit crew and senior staff, to race strategy calls. Carlos Sainz is in the form of his young F1 life, and rookie Lando Norris is showing incredible maturity and pace for a 19-year old thrusted into such a prestigious team at his first time of asking. Gone are the days of their Honda woes, but I'm sure they can't help but wonder what might have been after seeing the Red Bull resurgence in recent races. But McLaren can take a crumb of comfort from the fact that they're currently outscoring the Renault works team by a sizeable 43 points. There is no doubting that they will be solely focused on bridging the gap to Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari for the remainder of 2019 and throughout 2020. And with the huge technical shake up coming in 2021, they'll be looking to steal a march on their rivals, much like Brawn GP did during the last massive aero overhaul in 2009. Let's hope this added foray into IndyCar racing doesn't upset this fantastic upward trend that McLaren are currently experiencing.
So what is McLaren's plan of attack for the IndyCar series?
McLaren announced today that they will be parterning with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a current team in IndyCar, with Canadian hot shoe James Hinchcliffe and ex-Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson. Both drivers have commented on Twitter since the news broke of their teams' partnership with McLaren was announced. While Hinchclifee seems very confident of continuing his affiliation with the team into 2020, it's Ericsson that doesn't seem to have a guarantee going forward. And to add to the complexity of their driver issue, Zak Brown has said that there's a space for injured Robert Wickens if and when he returns to sport after his horror accident at Pocono last season. One thing is almost certain however, and that is Fernando Alonso not being part of the fold for the entire season, even though they may add a third car to the team at next year's Indy 500 to cater for the Spaniard's pursuit of the 'triple-crown'.
As for engine power, it looks as if McLaren have well and truly burnt their bridges with Honda, thus leaving only Cheverolet as the other engine manufacturer available in the IndyCar Series. With Schmidt Peterson Motorsports using Honda power currently, you can't help but feel that 2020 could be a building year for the team. Since 2012, Cheverolet have been the best engine manufacturer in every season bar one, with Honda coming out on top in 2018. If McLaren can strike up a good rapport with General Motors, then there's no doubt that it could potentially be a very fruitful relationship. With that being said, it's no secret that McLaren have a lot of drivers under their wing from their Honda days that could still be handpicked to race a full-time schedule with the team in 2020. Two drivers that come to mind are Sergio Sette Camara and Nyck de Vries. The two young drivers are currently competing in Formula 2, F1's main feeder category, and both shown extensive pace, knowledge and maturity that could bode well for an IndyCar push. Both drivers have expressed a desire to race in F1, but with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris both confirmed for 2020 in Formula One, spending a season in America for one or both of these drivers wouldn't be the worst learning experience.
24-year old Nyck de Vries currently sits atop the Formula 2 standings in 2019, with three wins and eight podiums.
So will this help or damage McLaren in the long run?
If we base Mclaren's latest effort at trying to qualify for the Indy 500 as how they'll perform when they go full-time in IndyCar next season, then one would assume that they'll struggle. However, with the partnership now aligned with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, along with a potentially exciting driver lineup, there's no reason that the historic and prestigious McLaren name can return to the top of the pyramid in open-wheel racing in North America once again. If they can manage two completely separate their Formula One and IndyCar efforts, then there's also no reason they can't continue their massive progression with the MCL34 in the hands of Sainz and Norris. Another thing to think about would be the introduction of hybrid technology for the 2022 season in IndyCar, and it's safe to say that Mclaren have a lot of experience in this area, with the team being one of the pioneers when the KERS technology was used in F1 from 2009, as well as the hybrid engines becoming part of F1 six years ago already. This wisdom and experience could play right into their wheelhouse when the rules overhaul comes into effect in 2022.
All we know after all this deliberating is that Mclaren are very determined to make this work, and if anyone in the F1 paddock can make this work, it's McLaren. And most importantly, they seem determined to do it with or without Fernando Alonso. The message has been sent, loud and clear.