Hartley provides interest in F1

By David Thomson on Sat, 17 Mar 2018

Forty-four years. That's how long it's been since the opening round of a Formula One world championship included a New Zealander on the entry list. How could any Kiwi race fan not be excited then, at the prospect of next weekend's Australian Grand Prix, with one Brendon Hartley set to commence what should be his first full season at the highest tier of global motorsport?

There's a certain buzz among the Drivesouth team, and none is more excited than our senior contributor, Richard Bosselman. He hails from the same part of the country (Manawatu) as Hartley, and has known the 28-year-old F1 racer (and other members of his race-mad family) for years.

No surprise, then, that Bosselman is part of a sizeable contingent from the Manawatu heading to Melbourne for the grand prix. He's on watch to report back on these pages when he returns. Meanwhile, I'm going to turn back the clock to 1974 as we count down to next weekend.

That was the last occasion a Kiwi started in the opening round of the F1 world championship season, and the race was the Argentine Grand Prix. There were actually two New Zealanders in the race, Denny Hulme and Howden Ganley. That weekend, Ganley qualified in 19th on the grid, but drove his March-Ford consistently to come home in a solid eighth place. Hulme, meantime, qualified his McLaren-Ford in 10th spot, quickly moved into contention for a top result, and ended up winning the race. As it would turn out, that was the last of ex-world champion Hulme's eight grand prix victories, and he would retire from F1 racing at the end of that year.

Having contested the final four F1 rounds of last season, Hartley knows exactly what to expect as he prepares for the Australian Grand Prix. He and Torro Rosso team-mate Pierre Gasly have shown a reasonable turn of pace in pre-season testing. Perhaps most importantly, this year's Honda engine, which replaces Renault for Torro Rosso this year, seems a whole lot more powerful and more reliable than the Honda unit used by McLaren in 2017.

Realistically, Hartley's car does not have the pace to match Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull or McLaren. But the early signs are that he could be competitive against the ‘‘best of the rest'' which comprise Renault, Hass, Williams, Sauber and Force India. Translate that into qualifying positions and race results, and that means that a decent top-10 result is well within the flying Kiwi's grasp.

Time to get excited about the start of an F1 season for the first time in years? You bet.

David Thomson