An interesting choice

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…

113 thoughts on “An interesting choice

  1. It would be a twist of fate for Brendon to take Dan’s seat at RB, given that Dan leap-frogged him when they were both RBR jnrs (and housemates, too…).

  2. Interesting choice yes, but the right one.

    At present its not as if any driver jumps out as a logical replacement to Kvyat. In my view its more Kvyat has done enough to at least have Toro Rosso look elsewhere. While the list is long of those that are ex Red Bull drivers that could replace Kvyat, all of them have had their chances. Many of them might produce results that are better than Kvyat, but they are the very results that got them the boot in the first place. Hartley in that respect deserves his chance in a race, as unlike the others, he has yet to have that chance.

    I think the upcoming engine announcement (and costs) goes a long way to determining whether Porsche enter F1, but the thing I am noticing is Horner, Porsche and Aston Martin are all singing from the same song sheet in regard to bringing in simpler, more cost effective engines. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is at least a factor in allowing Hartley the chance in F1. My long term prediction is that Horner and Newey team up in a joint ownership with Aston Martin to become somewhat of a new McLaren, with Aston Martin ramping up their road vehicle production and performance off the back of this. From this I can see Porsche becoming the engine supplier.

    Perhaps the lack of replacement drivers in the Red Bull camp really does highlight Red Bulls long term plans for the sport, or lack of.

      1. The names I’m hearing dropped around that project are McLaren, Aston and Cosworth, rather than Porsche. Porsche categorically have the resources and expertise to make an engine on their own. It’s just a case of whether F1 can make that an appealing enough prospect for them.

        1. Yea agree pretty much with everything you say, but I think the only way there will be an Aston Martin engine (if at all) in F1 is via a rebadging.

          I’ve read a a bit about the McLaren, Aston and Cosworth tie-up (from a bloody good F1 journo), which has merit, but I can see that changing if Porsche are on the sidelines saying “we want in”. The R&D and IP Porsche has as a result of its LMP1 venture must be to some degree transferable to F1.

          On a side note – if the main complaints about the current engine costs is a large amount to do with the MGU-H and the current noise issue in F1 is to do with the MGU-H, wouldn’t the logical solution be to get rid of the MGU-H?

          1. I can’t help but suspect that Andy Palmer is just stirring up the rumours to gain additional column inches for what is a pretty niche company.

            Aston Martin is barely profitable as it is – it’s only now just beginning to make money after years of losses – so I can’t see how they can afford to fund development of an engine even if they were in partnership with Cosworth (Cosworth has been in poor financial shape for years now).

            As for making the engine in house, as Palmer has been intimating with some of his comments about hiring some ex-Ferrari staff, I can remember the last small capacity turbo engine they built for motorsport.

            The AMR-One was a complete disaster, and Dr Ullrich was pretty scathing about the engine – reportedly calling it one of the worst designs that he had ever seen. Both cars were terribly off the pace, with the engine reportedly being underpowered and hopelessly unreliable – both cars retiring after two and four laps respectively with engine problems. It’s not the sort of performance that would make me think that Aston Martin is likely to do well.

            1. If someone designs a six inline with one turbocharger for Le Mans although it is widely known that torsional vibrations as much as bad response will kill it we can´t help.

  3. We worked with Brandon when his F1 dream turned into a privateer LMP2 drive . There was no chip on his shoulder after such a demotion, just a great attitude……and speed.

    He became a Le Mans winner and World Champion and let’s hope this is the next big step. He’s one of the good guys.

  4. I’ve always regarded Brendon as one of the most astounding natural talents I’ve ever seen in 3 decades of watching Formula 3 so I’m delighted to see him get a secind crack at F1.

  5. Joe, it was Greg Murphy of Murphy Prototypes that gave Brendon Hartley his first break in endurance racing in 2012 and they damn nearly won Le Mans on their debut too! I was there to see them leading Le Mans LMP2 for about 6 hours until about 3:30am when the Oreca 03 suspension failed. Devastated! When Murphy and Hartley teamed up they brought a new level of professionalism to LMP2 with their Hertz backing. It must have been the comeback win at Paul Ricard that put Brendon on Porsche’s recruitment radar. (and 2 years of topping the P2 time sheets) you’ll see more at [no links allowed]

    1. I expect Hartley to be on the pace by qualifying time but Kvyat is no mug and obviously has plenty of experience with the car so if Hartley beats him he will probably grab his coat and leave before Marko has the chance to reach for his favourite stick.

      Brendon is in good form at the moment and more importantly he has nothing to lose. He wasn’t expecting this chance and if rumours are true he has a very good offer from Ganassi just waiting for his signature.

      Kvyat on the other hand is mentally scarred ever since he was dropped from Red Bull’s No.1 team and has never fully recovered. Most recently being stood down so Gasly can get his eye in for next year now he’s got another guy out of left field challenging him and he’ll know if he can’t comfortably beat someone with very little F1 experience, none of it recent, then he’s done.

      1. It’ll be an interesting contest between the two of them. Hartley was mauled by Red Bull, but has bounced back with more focus and a rebuilt reputation. I think Kvyat’s head is still all over the place. Mercurial is the word. I still see glimpses of the speed and languid style that reminded me so much of Robert Kubica in 2014 and 2015, but he’s tense and overdriving a lot of the time. Some drivers perform well like that, but it does Daniil no good at all.

        Can Hartley beat him in Austin? I’d be surprised. These cars are hard to drive and I don’t think Brandon has so much as sat in one, yet. He’ll adapt, but my gut feeling is that he’ll have a better chance of matching Kvyat in the race, where his maturity and endurance experience will help him keep out of trouble and manage his race very effectively. You have to wonder whether a strong enough performance could see Hartley usurp Kvyat for 2018.

        1. > You have to wonder whether a strong enough performance could see Hartley usurp Kvyat for 2018.

          I can’t see any point in offering him the drive unless the management is at least prepared to contemplate that. If it’s nailed on as a one-off and nothing more, there are candidates who are better in the short run simply because they’ve run in these cars. But I do think it’s one hell of an ask for him to get in and be competitive straight off. Good luck to him.

          1. All teams really care about are results and if you compare Sainz (48) with Kvyat (4) you don’t need to try too hard to understand why they’re looking at replacing the latter.

            Too soon to tell and will depend on results for both but looking at what’s gone on lately – Gasly is definite for next year while Kvyat has been booted around, dropped, reinstated etc. and treated like a second class citizen… but given his results he shouldn’t be surprised.

            Hartley has returned to the fold with simulator time and proud smiles from Marko whenever his name comes up. He’s also someone who knows the Red Bull setup and has spent the last four years with the factory Porsche team so they know he will be strong and fast enough and his technical feedback will be good.

            They didn’t bring him back for sentimental reasons.

  6. I remember him in British F3 with Jaime Alguasauri and Oliver Turvey. There was an odd situation where he was the Toro Rosso reserve at the start of the next season, gave it up, and then his replacement as reserve, Alguasauri, was promoted to the race seat pretty much straight away. I did think at the time that Brendon had dodged a bullet (to keep Joe’s analogy going) as things didn’t work out very well for Alguasauri.

    Good luck to Brendon. Hopefully this will give Chip Ganassi a nudge too.

  7. Brendon got shafted when he was reserve for both teams. Alguersari’s dad pitched a tantrum ‘cos his precious wee boy wasn’t feeling the love. Stern words were exchanged, and Brendon was off on his career adventure. Remind me what (not so) young Jaime’s doing these days?

        1. Verstappen only went with Red Bull because Mercedes couldn’t offer him a drive. That’s hardly developing talent…

        2. Also, wasn’t Vettel primarily a BMW protege that was released to Red Bull by the German car manufacturer?

  8. Interesting choice. Nice to see a sportscar champion given a go in F1. Will be tough for him having not driven a grand prix car for ages….hope he impresses.

  9. Nice to see a second chance If Marko spent a bit more effort mentoring the young kids rather that being a scary headmaster maybe the programme would have been even more successful. They are in the end just kids and as a Father I would have probably smacked him in the mouth if he had treated my son like he treated some.of them! ( for the record I have never smacked anybody in the mouth!)

  10. Then “Haystack Hartley” goes on to win his first race in Austin, and Marko ejects Ricc to make room for him alongside Max 2018.

    Well, you never know… [stranger things have happened]

  11. Has a team ever turned up to a race mid-season with two different drivers from the race before?

    The only similar occurrence I know of was in 1992 when Andrea Moda replaced Bertaggia and Caffi with Moreno and McCarthy for race three, but the team had been excluded from the first two races and had done no more than a few exploratory laps in a non-official familiarisation session at the returning Kyalami track, so it doesn’t really count.

      1. Thanks Chris! I was sure it must have happened before at some point.

        Lotus, yes. They fielded a different line-up for six consecutive races, from Hungary to Japan (surely a record?), including one complete change (Portugal: Adams, Herbert… Europe: Bernard, Zanardi).

        Simtek, no. Brabham was their driver for every race. He did have five different team-mates though (another record?) – and did two races on his own, with only one car entered.

  12. Honestly, I was thinking lately why Williams wasn’t looking at one of the WEC drivers. WEC cars are closest to F1, drivers have to train as hard (or harder) than F1 pilots. And I was wondering all the time why no F1 team, and especially Williams wasn’t looking to that for Massa’s replacement. I’m very happy to see Brendon in F1, in probably a very difficult time because never driven the Toro Rosso 2017 car, but he knows the COTA very well thanks to all the racing and many development time of the Porsche there. Go Brendon.

  13. Might you have a mental list handy of those who either left town or are buried on Boot Hill? I’m afraid I’ve long since lost track…

    1. He’s happy at BMW, or at least he was last year. Brendon has a Porsche Formula E seat tucked in his back pocket should he want it. Much safer to pay the rent on his pad in Monte Carlo than a one-off in Marko’s reserve team.

      1. The money’s good in Formula E but going at GP3 pace round some bollards isn’t the first choice for any driver. If Hartley didn’t believe that he could fund a Monaco pad on talent alone he’d all have got a proper job by now.

    1. Ah Mike Thackwell, now that was a talent, that went missing from F1. God, he was good. But so laid back with all that talent.

  14. Obviously you are a frustrated Western novel writer, Joe. I don’t think there is much of a market for those things anymore.

  15. As you say, Joe, lots of young blokes chewed up and spit out, only a few of whom seemed to progress further once they’d left the shelter. Hartley is one, and it will be interesting to see how he goes, back in a single seater.
    I’m not sure whether they’re just saying it to promote the series and they’re told what to say, but most Indy car drivers make a point of saying how much they actually enjoy racing. I’d wager few F1 drivers could say they are ‘racing’ in the true sense of the word as we enthusiasts understand it.
    So the idea that Brendan Hartley could be headed to Indy cars may not be too far off the mark. He could do well here.

  16. Good luck to Hartley! It was a shame to see him dumped by RB all those years ago. Let’s hope that RB doesn’t waste him.

  17. I love the way you presented this subject, Joe.

    Many thanks.

    What are the F1 stats for having New Zealanders on the grid, please?

    1. Denny Hulme 112 starts, 8 victories, 1967 World Champion
      Bruce McLaren 100 starts, 4 victories
      Chris Amon 96 starts, 0 luck
      Howden Ganley 35 starts
      Mike Thackwell 2 starts
      Tony Shelly 1 start
      Graham McRae 1 start
      John Nicholson 1 start

      1. One thing your list illustrates is how difficult it used to be to win. So many DNFs. And what can you say about Chris Amon’s terrible luck?

      2. Great documentary on McLaren on Qantas in-flight at the moment. Watched it on the way to Singapore en-route to the Malaysian GP a few weeks back.

  18. All this ‘spitting out’…without the Red Bull money, none of the ex RB Young Drivers would be where they are today; in the main being paid to race cars. They knew the risks…far better than either paying for the privilege of being ‘team x’ reserve driver or ‘team y’ young driver academy member…use of gym and 3 pairs of black trousers as perks of the job….

    1. But it’s a bit rich to bleat about ‘loyalty’ when you can’t promote your drivers from the B-team, but veto offers from other teams that they want to accept anyway…

    2. I don’t think Brendon will have anything bad to say about Red Bull. He knows the results dropped off just when they needed to be flowing freely. He also knows that he’d probably be back milking cows on the family farm if Red Bull hadn’t picked him up and spent circa $8m over the next few years helping him up the junior ladder. There have been some hard times for Brendon I expect but he has Red Bull to thank for his career and this is a very nice circle about to happen.

      He wouldn’t have known at the time they dropped him but Red Bull letting him go made him so much stronger and better. He is a complete racer now and will do all of his supporters proud in Austin.

    3. I think Joe’s point is that all these bridges needn’t have been burned the way they were. The Red Bull programme is broad and if they hadn’t dropped these guys like hot potatoes, they might’ve had a few ready-made stand-ins for situations like this.

  19. There’s more talent in Red Bull’s waste bin than some teams have ever had through their revolving doors. The fact it’s all been forced out of F1 by the deliberate timing of Marko’s summary dismissals suggests he knows it and speaks volumes for his genuine interest in his charges (despite the equally genuine personal and vicarious blows he has himself suffered along the way).

  20. And this situation represents the best strategic thinking at Toro Rosso / Red Bull and Honda? Good for Brendon but it doesn’t bode well for the next few seasons when hard decisions will be needed by all parties.

  21. Mark Webber, who I believe is still a Red Bull ambassador and probably has Dr Markos number on his speed dial list, has been quite a positive coach for Brendon as they raced together at Porsche, and Brendon has been running with prominent Red Bull sponsorship on his crash helmet, much as Mark still did in WEC, so he never really left the Red Bull paddock.

    1. That’s a very good point. He really looks up to Webber as a sort of big brother he idolizes more than a mentor. Brendon was still quite ragged when Red Bull let him go, he won a lot but also crashed a lot, and I think lacked the consistency Red Bull were looking for. It was probably a good wake up call when he was dropped as he knew what he could do but needed to tidy up the loose stuff. Endurance racing has been good for him as he has more time in the car to work on his craft compared to the short sprint races he’d been doing to that point.

  22. I don’t know how true this quote is, but…

    Marko: “Only Red Bull has the “balls” to give F1 debuts to young drivers, in contrast to Ferrari and Mercedes”.

    Wolff: “Quite honestly, here at Mercedes we think with our heads rather than our balls.”

    1. Marko’s off point in anycase given that McLaren regularly place rookies in their cars, even when they were at the pointy end of the grid (a certain L. Hamilton among them).

      1. @Bob Ballard – Another famous rookie is Kimi Räikkönen, who got his seat at *Red Bull* Sauber Petronas after only 23 car races. Although Kimi was 21, Max Mosley was making noises about him being granting an F1 Super Licence. Kimi kicked that nonsense into touch when he finished 6th in his first race.

        1. @ Jonno – was that more Peter Sauber than Red Bull calling the shots (I don’t know am simply asking)? Sauber always seemed to go after decent young (and cheap) talent when available – he also gave Massa and later Perez their debuts too, not to mention the likes of Frentzen, Boullion and Wendlinger in the 90s.

        1. @ Edgar, would have to humbly agree to disagree – McLaren still ‘do’ place rookies in their cars, one only has to look at 2014 (Kevin Magnussen) and 2016/2017 (Stoffel Vandoorne).

  23. I have a feeling he’ll be signed for next year in place of Kvyat, unfortunately for Dan he’s been going backwards for a while. Hartley deserves his chance in F1, if not at TR then Williams should take him up. He did a great job in the 919, only really made one costly mistake in the time he was in the car. They’re smashing it this year with four wins which should see them be WEC champions again in 2017.

    Marko having won the race himself, obviously rates his achievements and the extension of links to Porsche prior to the new engine formula, albeit being subtle are interesting also. Im sure Webber has told the powers that be at RB that he has what it takes.

    Good on him, I wish him all the best. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. Lotterer and Jani should have been give a proper chance in F1 also, they’re a bit old now though unfortunately. Still very quick.

  24. “Max Verstappen was bought in to bolster the programme”

    If Max was brought in to make up the numbers it can’t have been that unsuccessful, can it..?

    now compare that to Mercedes’ floundering when one of their drives left, neither kicking nor screaming…

  25. Btw (off-topic), are you considering applying for french citizenship because of Brexit? Would dual nationality be possible? Maybe you could write a piece about the possible implications for your travelling schedule.

          1. Well worth re-reading those Brexit articles18 months later and given the current situation. Don’t know how to sum it up better than just going ARGHGHGHGH!

  26. Has Marko mouthed off once too often? Christian Horner is saying a lot of nice things about Daniel Ricciardo in the last week. Is he worried that both Ricciardo and Verstappen will leave next year, leaving RB with lesser drivers just when the team is likely to be on the market?

    I won’t be rushing to buy Jenson Button’s book. If the major selling point is his relationship with Lewis Hamilton and not his WDC, it can’t be that interesting.

  27. Hi Joe, looking at Hartley’s age and providing he does a decent job could he be an contender for the Williams seat? If TR are looking to keep “the torpedo” for one more season.

  28. Would Hartley be a choice for 2018 if his performances are close or better than Kvyat, or does Red Bull sell too many tins of it’s drink in Russia?

  29. Hartley, if chosen, debunks the whole ethos of STR and then confirms the rumours that Mateschitz wants to sell the team.

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