IndyCar: Hinchcliffe continues to endure home race house of horrors

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Oakville, Ontario’s James Hinchcliffe joked heading into the Honda Indy Toronto weekend, “I just assume it will go poorly.”

Unfortunately for the “Mayor of Hinchtown,” the lone Canadian in the field, his words proved prophetic.

A nondescript eighth place finish occurred in race one while in race two, Hinchcliffe slid off course at the slick and damp Turn 8, but was stuck and stalled for several laps while the Holmatro Safety Team tended to Mikhail Aleshin after he’d got wedged underneath Juan Pablo Montoya’s car. Another tough day for the driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda.

Here was the official quote from Hinchcliffe, as issued by his Andretti Autosport team:

“I’m pleased with a top 10 in Race One, but we knew we had some room to improve the car, it was a bit of a handful. We took a swing at it and (the car) was so good at the start of Race Two. We were picking off guys and just got caught out on the wet concrete there when (Juan) Montoya crashed. It’s just one of those things, I mean, if the accident behind me wouldn’t have been so severe, we probably would have only gone one lap down and probably could have gotten that lap back. But (the safety officials) were rightfully attending to Mikhail (Aleshin) who was potentially hurt, and as a result we went four laps down and there’s no recovering form that. I’m really disappointed, the car was so good and the UFD guys did a great job so disappointed to not bring home a better result in Race Two.”

Here’s the reaction from the local media in Toronto.

From the Toronto Star’s Norris McDonald: “Hinchcliffe, as is becoming a habit for him in Toronto, was terribly disappointed. He’s never finished better than eighth in his home race.”

From the Toronto Sun’s Dean McNulty: “James Hinchcliffe said he could feel his chances of finally winning his hometown Verizon IndyCar Series race slip away as the rain began to fall on the Exhibition Place circuit in the second of two Honda Indy Toronto races on Sunday.”

From The Globe & Mail’s Jeff Pappone: “Sitting helpless in the pitlane during his home race while watching his rivals continue to battle on track seems to have become a recurring nightmare for James Hinchcliffe.”

And from SportsNet’s Todd Lewis: “Wherever you went in Toronto the last week, you likely saw the image of James Hinchcliffe — or probably even the man himself! There was no busier person leading up to this event. Carrying the hopes of all Canadians, he managed an eighth-place result in the first race, then got turned around and wound up 18th in Race 2.”

The latest rough Toronto weekend came at an inopportune time as Hinchcliffe sorts out his future – again – for the following season. An Indianapolis Star report said Hinchcliffe is looking to test the free agent market; Hinchcliffe was on a one-year deal with Andretti Autosport for 2014 with a team option available for 2015.

Hinchcliffe was the marquee free agent in the sport a year ago before returning to Andretti, but he’s not the domino this year – that is Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports. So we’ll see where the chips fall from here.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.