Insight: How a phone call led to an F1 seat

Insight: How a phone call led to an F1 seat

19 October 2017 – Brendon Hartley will make a surprise Formula 1 debut at the United States Grand Prix, stepping in for Super Formula title contender Pierre Gasly at Toro Rosso. But how did the deal come about? An opportunistic phone call to Helmut Marko earlier this year played a key role. GPUpdate.net overviews.

Back in 2010, Hartley was pictured alongside Carlos Sainz Jr., Jean-Éric Vergne, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, with Red Bull's junior roster stronger than ever. Over the next handful of seasons, the drinks company handed Formula 1 opportunities to four of them. Hartley, though, missed out.

At first, he showed plenty of promise, capturing the Formula Renault 2.0 title in 2007 and the following year placing third in British Formula 3, along with a podium at the Macau Grand Prix.

But results in the Formula 3 Euro Series and Formula Renault 3.5 were harder to come by, the New Zealander's split 2009 campaign yielding just one victory and one further podium finish.

Hartley was given until midway through his 2010 FR3.5 campaign to turn the situation around, before Red Bull made the call to drop him, though he retained an affiliation with the brand.

He switched his focus from single-seaters to sportscars and, after impressing with privateer teams, linked up with Porsche in 2014. Since then, he has taken the World Endurance Championship title and a victory at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Porsche, however, will not be on the scene for much longer. Back in July, it announced that it will end its LMP1 effort, in favour of a Formula E entry for 2019/20.

And this is when Hartley made a bold call to his former boss, Red Bull advisor Marko, offering his more experienced, more rounded skillset, if any future opportunities were to arise.

"Actually, when it was announced that Porsche would stop endurance racing in LMP1 for next year, I called Helmut Marko," commented Hartley on Thursday.

"I said, 'Look, I'm a different driver than I was 10 years ago, I've learned a lot, and if there is ever and opportunity I am ready'.

"He didn't say much, he just said he got the message, and three months later he made the call.

"This happened very quickly. I didn't know about it much sooner than the press did. It's been quite a whirlwind of a couple of weeks to arrive here."

Hartley is clear about where he has developed as a driver and person through the years, admitting that the pressure got to him as a Red Bull-backed teenager.

"I guess I wasn't ready," said the now 27-year-old.

"I had some success in the early days, I won the Formula Renault championship, I became the reserve driver, had my first Formula 1 test at 18 years old and I guess I just didn't deal with the pressure.

"I stopped enjoying it, I wasn't happy. I was pretty young and away from home.

"When the Formula 1 dream, so to speak, stopped in 2010, I picked myself up, I found endurance racing, and I have learned a lot from that experience.

"Being in the LMP1 programme, a high-profile category, where there is a lot of pressure, probably not that dissimilar to Formula 1 in some ways, in that respect, in development of the race car, and working with team-mates, has been great.

"I'm a lot stronger than I was back then."

Although confident over his current abilities, Formula 1, and 2017-spec cars, pose a significant challenge. Aware of the task ahead, Hartley has asked several team-mates and friends in the paddock for advice, chatting with Mark Webber over breakfast and meeting up with Daniel Ricciardo.

"All the friends I have in the sport I've been asking for a bit of advice," explained Hartley.

"I saw Mark this morning for breakfast. I saw Daniel, who is one of my best buddies as well, two nights ago. I asked him for all the advice I could manage to get out of him regarding tyres.

"Some of it is going to come down to driving free practice one, seeing how I go, and then asking some of those questions, as lot of them aren't really relevant until I experience the car."

Ricciardo, delighted for his long-time friend, reckons Hartley's experience in various forms of motorsport will serve him well when he leaves the pit lane at the Circuit of the Americas.

"We pretty much grew up together and as far as racing mates go he is probably the best mate I have had over the years, so I was super stoked for him," said Ricciardo.

"We are all competitors, but I feel like we have been through quite a bit, him in particular. He has been there and nearly fallen to the bottom, like racing historic cars and racing to race, just trying to race because he loved it.

"To climb up, to get the Porsche drive was big news, and then to be back in this position is pretty huge.

"When we were young he was always quick. He has always been able to adapt really quickly. He has driven all different types of cars in the last few years.

"If he has got the kind of confidence and calmness about him then he will fine. If he asks me a thing or two then I am happy to give him encouragement."

While the car will be completely new to Hartley, COTA is not. He has been highly successful at the circuit, winning the 6 Hours event in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

"It's definitely nice coming to my Formula 1 debut at a track I know very well," he said.

"As a racing driver, learning a track, when you have enough experience, it can happen quite quickly. I think learning the car will be the bigger challenge. The big tyres, the big downforce that these Formula 1 cars have at the moment, they are setting lap records at every track they go to.

"I'm going to have a bit on my hands tomorrow and the track is only a small part of it."

And just how does he feel ahead of the big day?

"I'm pretty relaxed at the moment, all things considered," he commented.

"I'm really looking forward to getting out on track. I've had quite a bit of time to chat to the engineers, to go through some data, a little bit of time on the simulator.

"I'm looking forward to free practice one, to see how comfortable I feel, and working towards the race start on Sunday, which will be a big moment for me.

"I haven't set any expectations. To be honest, some of the team members I'm just meeting for the first time today, and yesterday during the seat fit. I made the seat yesterday.

"Nothing has been said by the team, and also going forward nothing has been said. I'm trying to focus on the weekend, see how that goes and see what comes from it."

Written by: Mike Seymour

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