Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had to make the best business decision. That decision was to hire James Jakes for their #7 Honda. However, what is best for SPM may not have been what is best for IndyCar.
We all know Jakes got hired because of the paycheck he brings. We all know his father runs Acorn Stairlifts. We all also know that Jakes sat on the sidelines all of 2014 after losing his ride at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He didn't find a ride in Europe, he didn't run a year in sports cars, whether it be LMP2 or Prototype Challenge, he didn't even take a step down and run Indy Lights. Jakes raced nothing in 2014 and it's paying off in 2015.
Conor Daly spent 2014 making the best running for the weakest team in GP2. After finishing third in GP3 in 2013, the best he could manage for Venezuela GP Lazarus was a seventh place finish in the Hungary sprint race but was running at the finish of 15 of his 18 starts. It became clear that Daly's time in Europe was up and he made IndyCar his focus for 2015.
It is no secret that I thought Daly was the best driver for SPM and it's nothing against Jakes. Jakes is a competent driver. In 2013, he was running at the finish at 15 of 19 races with two mechanical failures. His average finish improved each year he was in IndyCar. However, what is he bringing to IndyCar besides a check?
Jakes raced nothing in 2014. He wasn't on a TV screen doing interviews. He wasn't signing autographs at a race track, mingling with fans. He has tweeted 31 times since the start of 2014. At least drivers such as Martin Plowman or James Davison are running FIA WEC or IMSA and are int the mind of race fans. When they run Indianapolis, someone has seen them race somewhere and those fans have someone to pull for. How many people are going to be turning on an IndyCar race because James Jakes is in the field?
The same can be asked of Daly but it's more likely Daly will draw a fan to a television screen than Jakes, especially globally. Daly raced in nine different countries last year. How many people saw Daly race in 2014? How many fans did he mingle with who might turn on an IndyCar race late one night in say Austria and realize that they got his autograph at Red Bull Ring? Or someone in England might see him competing and met him Silverstone when he was in GP2. Here in the states, Daly has some presence, not a large presence but he does have an Indianapolis 500 start to his name, won a Star Mazda championship and won in Indy Lights.
Not to forget to mention Daly's use of social media. You might wonder why the hell does that matter but he is going to promote himself. He is going to show personality. He mentions Taylor Swift at least once a month in a tweet and while that seems juvenile what if he were to win the Indianapolis 500 (crazier things have happen) and then ask her out on a date? That would get some type of attention from circles that never mention IndyCar and that might make him even more of a household name than winning the race. Let's not forget that IndyCar needs Americans on the grid and Daly fits that mold.
Stefan Johansson was the latest subject in Racer.com's IndyCar 2018 series and the Swede mentioned the one strength NASCAR and Formula One have had is they are run like dictatorships. IndyCar needs to get more heavy handed. IndyCar is too laissez-faire when it comes to who the teams hire. If the series wants to have the best drivers in the world, they need to discourage teams from signing drivers who are bringing nothing to the table in terms of sociability and only a paycheck.
If IndyCar wanted to send a message to the teams, that accepting pay drivers who are not up to a certain standard, especially those who did nothing the season prior, they would not give SPM Leader's Circle funding for the ride Jakes will occupy and if they really wanted to show no mercy they would not give SPM funding for Hinchcliffe either. That would probably run Schmidt Peterson completely out of IndyCar but every good dictatorship has a few political prisoners.
If IndyCar wants to show who has control, they need make sure the teams are hiring drivers in the best business interest for the series. Teams need to make money as well but the series needs to work more hands on with making sure the right talent is in full-time rides.