Hartley’s F1 drive perfectly timed

By David Thomson on Sat, 21 Oct 2017

A few weeks back, I drafted an editorial for this weekend's edition of Drivesouth, tentatively titled ‘‘Will New Zealand's great racing anniversary pass unnoticed?''.

It had come to my attention through some idle browsing that tomorrow is the 50th anniversary - to the day - since Denny Hulme became New Zealand's first and, so far, only Formula One world champion. Hulme clinched the 1967 F1 crown by finishing third at that year's Mexican Grand Prix.

Having already won the Monaco and German Grands Prix, and made several other points- scoring finishes over the season, that third placing in Mexico confirmed Hulme as champion ahead of team-mate and defending champion Jack Brabham and supremely talented Scotsman Jim Clark.

So the chances of anyone, other than a motor racing history geek like me, noticing the significance of the date seemed slim.

Then, out of nowhere, came current F1 team Torro Rosso's mess-up over driver transfers that left it with a spare seat for this weekend's United States Grand Prix in Austin. Amid a long list of potential fill-in racers for the event, Brendon Hartley's name eventually rose to the top of the pile, and he got the nod for the drive.

Naturally, this has caused plenty of excitement here, with many pointing out that Hartley will become the first Kiwi since Mike Thackwell in 1984 to contest an F1 event. While that is correct, I have always struggled to regard Thackwell as a true Kiwi racer. He lived in Australia from age 6, then moved to the United Kingdom to further his career. Nor, having started in just two grands prix and finished neither, was Thackwell's F1 career in any way distinguished.

Far better, I think, to link Hartley's drive to the exploits of Hulme, an out-and-out Kiwi whose racing career started in this country, and included the ultimate F1 prize of a world championship crown.

So what can we expect of Hartley on his F1 racing debut? He's certainly race fit, having just completed the Fuji endurance race for Porsche. The previous round of the world endurance series (held last month) also saw him racing on the very same Circuit of the Americas track he will race in F1 this weekend.

But the demands of an F1 single-seater and a grand prix race are vastly different from those of endurance racing. Furthermore, the Torro Rosso car that Hartley will drive is a car he has never driven before, and it is a midfield F1 machine rather than a frontrunner.

Qualifying respectably has to be aim No1, and if Hartley can post a time better than that of his Texas Grand Prix team-mate Daniel Kvyat, that in itself would be a stunning achievement. Though no superstar by F1 standards, Kvyat is a veteran of 70 grands prix, and has made the podium twice. If Hartley can finish in the top 15 he will have done very well, top 12 amazingly well, and if he pulls off a top- 10 finish he will have performed brilliantly.

Most importantly, simply having Hartley in a real F1 car on the start grid is going to be the stuff of dreams for the 27-year-old Manawatu driver, and Kiwi racing fans the world over.

David Thomson