Brendon Hartley, a shock inclusion to the Formula 1 grid in 2017, scored his first points last month in Baku. Not only the Kiwi has had a strange road into F1, there are also split opinions by fans over how much talent he has in an F1 car.
Now whether you personally believe he deserves a seat this year or not, we’re going to explore how a little known name has become one of the biggest assets Red Bull could wish for and why if they don’t tie a contract down their rivals won’t miss a trick.
It’s well documented that Hartley is a WEC champion and his extensive sportscar experience has made the Kiwi a dab hand at setting up a car and dialling it into a circuit. All this also means that his development feedback is far superior to all but the veterans of F1.
Now, as we have seen in the past, the order of the teams move dramatically across an entire campaign and the development race is arguably more important than the round one pace. Teams like Ferrari (with the exception of Barcelona), Red Bull and McLaren have shot up the order this year, while Force India and Williams have lost out.
What Hartley brings to Toro Rosso is the knowledge on what parts to develop and where to gain the most from their lap time, and for Red Bull, he could be invaluable in a title situation, especially with the lack of experience in their driver lineup, should Ricciardo venture elsewhere.
Now Hartley might not have a world champion's pace, and some other drivers on the grid may have, but as a testing and development driver few have the consistency that Brendon possesses. Futhermore, Red Bull's exclusive Aston Martin link up could provide them with a driver for their GT program and someone on Hartley’s level would be a huge coup for the British manufacturer.
Now sure, Red Bull aren’t the only team who could provide this sort of contract to the Kiwi. Ferrari have a sportscar division and Hartley would perhaps be a more appropriate asset than Hartley’s predecessor, Kvyat. McLaren have already joined hands with Toyota for Fernando Alonso to compete at Le Mans this year and a similar arrangement could see Hartley return to WEC, especially if Alonso leaves and the inexperienced Vandoorne and Norris lead their line up for 2019.
Who knows what sort of future F1 has for Hartley and this is merely speculation but for all those who say Hartley is far from the model F1 driver, he is still an incredibly talented pilot and someone who could offer F1 a lot more than they give credit for.
by Matthew Gannon