New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley waved goodbye to his teenage years yesterday, spending his 20th birthday getting fitted for a seat at the Toro Rosso Formula One team's headquarters in northern Italy.
Hartley's visit to the team HQ in Faenza came after he was this week named as Toro Rosso's driver for Formula One testing in Spain from December 1-3.
The Palmerston North driver, who has nestled in the Red Bull drivers' development squad since he was 15, will be among a troop of young stars being groomed for Formula One at the Jerez track.
The post-season testing is open only to drivers who have driven in no more than two F1 races.
Hartley told NZPA this morning from the Red Bull centre at Milton Keynes near London that he would not be distracted by the other young drivers, and will instead focus on his strengths as a test driver.
"There's nothing you can say about times as all the teams are developing their cars for next year because of regulation changes.
"I don't think it's a competitive test for the drivers but I think in the team, we'll show whether we are doing a good job or not," he said.
Hartley will have the advantage of experience, having last year tested the Red Bull Formula One car for this season, also at Jerez, stepping in after driver Mark Webber was injured in a crash.
Next year's cars will have major changes because there will be no fuel stops next year, Hartley said.
"The cars will be about 200 kilos heavier than this year and that's quite a fundamental change.
"That means brakes, tyres, aerodynamics -- everything revolves around the fact the cars are going to be heavier."
Hartley is down to test for two days with Italian teenager Mirko Bortolotti, a fellow Red Bull junior development programme driver, given one day.
Hartley was named reserve driver for the Red Bull Formula One team earlier this year but stepped down after he found he was being stretched with his involvement also in the European Formula Three series and the Renault World Series.
However, he has remained a test pilot in the Red Bull team's simulator at Milton Keynes -- but nothing's better than getting into the real thing.
"It's another big opportunity for myself -- Toro Rosso is the young drivers team and it's important to have a good test if I want to be there in the future.
"But at same time, it's going to be great fun driving a F1 car again."
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