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Jenson Button hails biggest improvement by Honda in 14 months

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Jenson Button believes that the step forward made by Honda with its power unit ahead of the 2016 Formula 1 season is the biggest in 14 months.

Button and his McLaren team endured a miserable 2015 season largely thanks to issues with the power unit provided by Honda upon its return to the sport as an engine supplier.

The Japanese manufacturer came under heavy fire throughout the season, leaving it with plenty of work to do over the winter to avoid a repeat in 2016.

McLaren debuted the new power unit for this season on Tuesday in Barcelona, with Button getting his first taste of it when he took over from teammate Fernando Alonso on Wednesday.

Speaking after his day in the car, Button said that the progress made by Honda was not only noticeable, but also impressive.

“I would say it’s the biggest improvement yet with the power unit over the last 14 months, which is good,” Button said.

“I think the improvement is good, but obviously we’re still a long way off the other guys, and you can see that in the speed traps. You can definitely feel the difference though, in the initial part of the straight.

“We’ve got the reliability sorted I think, so we can really, really push the performance with the power unit.”

Although Button is confident that McLaren can be more competitive in 2016 as a result of the progress made by Honda, he still feels there is plenty of work to be done over the remainder of the winter testing period.

“I’m hoping we won’t be hanging off the back [of other cars], but there’s still a lot of work before I feel that we’re properly competitive yet,” Button said.

“There’s still a lot of work needed over the next two days to find a set-up that really works for us, because we’re not there.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.