25 Oct 2017

Hartley already achieved something great with F1 breakthrough

12:14 pm on 25 October 2017

Whatever happens from here, it is almost impossible to overstate Brendon Hartley's Formula One breakthrough.

Brendon Hartley chats with friend and Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Brendon Hartley chats with friend and Red Bull Racing driver Daniel Ricciardo. Photo: Photosport

Hartley made history on Monday, his impressive debut at the US Grand Prix making him the first New Zealand driver to circulate in a F1 field for 33 years.

A 13th-placing has earned him a second crack in Mexico this weekend with the Toro Rosso team ahead of Russian Daniil Kvyat, who has almost four years F1 experience.

It is the most prominent of several positive signs Hartley will get a fulltime seat for 2018.

Despite his five-year absence from a single-seater car, he completed the 56-lap race in Texas in mistake-free fashion and showed an improvement in pace throughout the three-days on track.

While he finished three places and 26 seconds behind Kvyat, Hartley had a fastest lap a full second quicker than his team-mate and may well have finished right up the Russian's bumper had he not been held up by cars with more speed in the all-important passing zones.

The team's switching of engine suppliers after this season also does Hartley's case no harm.

Toro Rosso will want whoever they pick for next year to be capable of playing a prominent role in ensuring the changes are adapted to in an efficient and effective manner. Hartley has more than proven he fits the bill on that front.

Not only did he test and supply feedback for Red Bull and the all-conquering Mercedes outfit during his first foray into F1, he has played an important role in developing and refining a hugely-advanced hybrid car as part of the dominant Porsche endurance programme.

As far as 2018 is concerned, the 27-year-old has plenty to be optimistic about.

But if that doesn't come to fruition, or Mexico ends up being his second and last F1 race, it should not affect the status of what he has achieved as truly outstanding.

The Kiwi driver in action for Toro Rosso during practice for the US Grand Prix.

The Kiwi driver in action for Toro Rosso during practice for the US Grand Prix. Photo: Photosport

Hartley has overcome significant obstacles to realise a dream that began when he was a six-year-old kart racer in a motorsport-mad family.

While New Zealand is far from an unknown quantity in F1, thanks largely to the feats of Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon during the 1960s and 1970s, growing up in this country presents challenges for F1 aspirants.

A small population and isolated geographical location mean it is no coincidence Hartley is just the ninth Kiwi to compete in F1 in its 67-year existence.

Those reasons are precisely why he left home at just 16 and headed for Europe.

Within a couple of years he was testing for Red Bull and then part of the F1 team's junior programme, before a big bump in the road arrived in 2010 when he was dropped.

But as he continues to prove, Hartley is not lacking in determination.

He dusted himself off and was soon embarking on a new career path in sportscars.

His talents earned him a factory drive for Porsche in the World Endurance Championship and within two seasons he had put to bed any doubts about his ability, becoming a world champion at the age of 26.

A 24 Hours of Le Mans title this year, alongside countryman and childhood friend Earl Bamber, further proved Hartley's increasing class.

So although it happened very quickly and came as a shock to some, it wasn't entirely surprising Red Bull turned to their former charge when a seat was free for Monday's US GP.

Brendon Hartley speaks to Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko at the US Grand Prix.

Brendon Hartley speaks to Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko at the US Grand Prix. Photo: Photosport

His performance in Texas validated that decision.

Perhaps the biggest proof that New Zealand's newest F1 driver deserves every bit of praise he is getting, though, is money. Or in Hartley's case, a lack of it.

The championship has always had drivers whose sponsorship deals have helped them claim a race seat.

But, in the wake of the global financial crisis, it is a trend which has garnered much more attention and there is a prevalent belief drivers who bring more money are being favoured ahead of those with more talent.

That Hartley has reached F1 without the magnitude of financial backing some of his new counterparts have says a lot about the esteem Red Bull hold him in.

Whether that means he beats out Kvyat for a regular berth with Toro Rosso in 2018 alongside Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who is widely expected to get one of the fulltime seats, remains to be seen.

It is hard to be too sure about much in the fast-paced F1 environment but, based on his inclusion for Mexico and Kvyat's third demotion within Red Bull, Kiwi motorsport fans have a lot to feel hopeful about.

If it doesn't work out, it should not diminish what is a dream achieved against many odds.