Scuderia Toro Rosso, Red Bull by another name, has decided to give New Zealander Brendon Hartley a run in the United States Grand Prix in Austin, to see whether it made a big mistake by dumping him from its Red Bull Junior Team eight years ago.
There was a time, not long ago, when Red Bull had drivers aplenty, but Red Bull’s Helmut Marko went through them like The Man with No Name went through Mexican bandits in spaghetti westerns. Some fell from roofs with sickening thuds, some were wounded and ran away. Marko cleared the town. Today, of the veritable Red Bull Juniors, only Dan Ricciardo, Desperate Dan Kvyat and the gawky kid Gasly remain in Marko’s OK Corral, the rest have been gunned down or have fled. Max Verstappen was bought in to bolster the programme, while the blue-eyed boy SebVet snagged a prancing horse and galloped away into a dusty sunset.
When Carlos Sainz was dragged (not kicking nor screaming) to Renault, Red Bull had a problem, because newbie Gasly was committed to fighting for Honda in the Super Formula in Japan, leaving a free seat for the US Grand Prix in Austin. Marko’s phone has, no doubt, been ringing a lot as every man and his dog has tried for the drive, but it seems that Marko was curious to see what happened to some of his victims and has picked Hartley, who is looking for a single seater career now that his Porsche sports car career has been torpedoed by the company pulling out of WEC. Hartley has done well with Porsche, his flaxen haystack of hair cut more conservatively than it was in his days on the Red Bull farm. In the last three years he has successfully raced Porsches, winning the World Championship in 2015, with his team-mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard. This year he may repeat that feat, but has already scrawled “Le Mans winner” into his CV.
“This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise,” he said, using English grade understatement. “I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1. I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined. I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull for making this a reality, and to Porsche for allowing me to do this alongside the World Endurance Championship.”
Maybe there is method in all this madness and Porsche is rumoured to be considering an F1 programme in the years ahead and so would like to see one of its own landing in F1. If Hartley does a good job, one can imagine that he might be viewed as a possible replacement for Desperate Dan in 2018. Otherwise, so they say, he’s off to a ride in Indycar…