Thursday, Dec 20 02:35pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Interview: Brendon Hartley on Formula 1, the fight and his future

In late 2017 Brendon Hartley’s career-long ambition to get to Formula 1 was rekindle. But by the end of 2018 his hopes of a long stay are over.

He remains ever positive, always on the up and moving forward.

Following his exit from Scuderia Toro Rosso he made a return to his first home, New Zealand. Currently the 29-year-old resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

With the new year approaching, resident columnist Richard Gee sat down with the 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and former full-time Formula 1 driver.

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Do you think you had done enough to retain your seat for another year in Formula 1?


Yes I did. There's no hiding that at the start of the year there was a couple of missed opportunities, some from my part, and I had been out of single seaters for seven years and there was a bit to learn. I did definitely harden my approach over the course of the season and I did evolve and I definitely finished a lot stronger than I started.


There was a period where I had some terrible luck and I spared a few thoughts for Chris Amon who was dubbed the most unlucky driver in Formula 1. I thought I was heading down that road but things did turn around, I was consistently outperforming my teammate, and yes I did feel I had a lot more to give in Formula 1 and was proud of the job I was doing.


I was definitely competing with the best in the world and I didn’t disgrace myself. I tried to show fighting spirit during challenging times and I did play the team game. There were some races compromised because of that. It’s a team sport and you don’t always have the chance to win races and score points.

There are 500 people working for Toro Rosso alone working for that common goal and sometimes people forget that it’s a team sport but at the end of the season I felt like I was getting almost the maximum out of some of the weekends and I think under difficult circumstances too.

I fought back, I didn’t crack and others potentially definitely could have. I'm proud of a few of those facts and I held my head high. And I know all of the experiences of the past year or so will pay dividends moving forward next year and beyond.



What have you learned about yourself from your time so far in Formula 1?


Every weekend was full of new experiences. And Formula 1 is not just about driving the car at full speed which is a huge challenge in itself of course. They are incredibly quick, incredibly complicated, but outside of the car there is a lot to manage as well.

There's the politics of course and that’s a part I don’t particularly enjoy. It could be media or managing your mental energy and time out of the car. Engineering wise you are working with the best engineers in the world with the most complex cars in the world, so there are so many things that I learned over the course of the year and for sure I definitely hardened my approach.

I'm mentally stronger than when I started. As an athlete or an individual you will always learn in difficult circumstances and constantly evolving is a big part of the job. I feel I did that and I will take that to where I head next.


Was Formula 1 everything you had hoped it would be?


That’s a difficult question to answer. I had been dreaming about Formula 1 since I was five-years-old and at five-years-old you have no idea of what it means to be a Formula 1 driver the hard work it's going to take and the support crew you have to have around you. All the things in fact that will have to fall into line in order to achieve that.

Driving the cars is epic. It’s hard to compare it to anything else, even other forms of motorsport. It’s so quick, it’s so refined. The precision that is required, the forces involved, are incredible. It looks easy but it requires a lifetime of training really.



Did your endurance racing experience help you in Formula 1?


There was a lot I was prepared for coming from LMP1. The cars are definitely quicker all round in Formula 1. I had been used to working in a complex environment with lots of engineers with Porsche and that continued in Formula 1. It still was tough physically and for the first few races and I think even after the winter break every driver's feeling the effects on the neck.


I do pride myself on keeping fit and keeping in shape so I was physically prepared. There’s still nothing is better than actually driving the car of course and during the season you get stronger and stronger and you can drive it in a way that you are less stressed.

If you are more relaxed you use less energy. So yes, in some ways I was more prepared having been in a high pressure scenario like Porsche but everything was taken to the next level in Formula 1.



Were there other endurance racing skills you could bring to the team that were useful?


There was definitely a lot of experience I was able to bring to the team and help the team evolve their processes, set up and direction. I do pride myself on the engineering side and my abilities there and enjoyed working with Honda in those areas.

You do learn a lot about tyres from endurance racing but having said that they are completely different in Formula 1. Tyres were actually something I had to completely re-learn. The Pirellis were so different from what I was used to.


To start with they were a lot more sensitive. The level of engineering that goes into those tyres and making them work on either one lap or during the race is quite mind boggling actually. You're a part of that and as the driver you are the one who feels it on the road. It’s all a complex science in itself.

One thing that I did have coming from endurance racing was a strong understanding of energy management. Not just the battery, but the fuel as well and that's something I had a pretty good feel for in the Formula 1 car.


In the racing scenario we were limited on the amount of fuel we could have and I could sometimes start with a lot less fuel than others because I knew how to manage it in an efficient way. That's a key skill endurance racing did teach me but there was still a lot that needed the re-learn switch flicked. Tyres, racecraft, standing starts. So overall, there were a lot of things to re-learn as well as there being plenty of transferable skills brought over from LMP1.


Honda's statement of support after the team announcement that you would leaving was largely unprecedented. Were you surprised by it and what did you make of it?


It was nice and I know I had a positive impact with them and had a positive relationship with them. I enjoyed working with everyone at Honda and did my very best to embrace the Japanese culture and work closely with their engineers.

The statement was nice, it’s may be unusual for a manufacturer as you say and it was good to see some reinforcement of the job I had been doing.


Despite that, it’s important for everyone to know that I didn’t lose confidence at the end of the year. I knew the job that I was doing and I knew the work that I had put in and was putting in. I evolved and improved my performance throughout the season.


Decisions in Formula 1 are not always based purely on performance. I don’t have any regrets on that. I'm not looking for sympathy. I am well aware of the number of drivers who did or do deserve to have been in Formula 1 and I feel very privileged to have been there and of course for me that story is not over yet.


Things do change quickly as they did for me a year ago when I got the opportunity.




Talking of things changing, it’s obvious a few doors are going to be open to you and there for discussion for 2019. As a world champion endurance driver, might there be a door open at Le Mans next year? Is that possible?


I'm not sure yet, but there's definitely a possibility to see me back at Le Mans. And yes I'd like to go. I still have a big passion for Le Mans and endurance racing. Everyone knows I grew up dreaming of Formula 1 and that continued even when I was racing for Porsche in endurance races.


But I fell in love with endurance racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in particular and that passion is still very much there, and although I don't know what the future holds right now, yes I do hope to go back at Le Mans.


I definitely won’t be sitting twiddling my thumbs though.


And Formula 1?


The story is not over. There's definitely potential interest there for me to be still involved in Formula 1 though obviously not in the actual racing for now at least.

We are looking closely at several opportunities and I’m afraid it’s a bit of case of watch this space at the moment. But for sure I feel I’ve got a lot to offer.


I’ve got a Super Licence, which not many drivers have, and I’ve got massive experience in modern engine and energy driven systems with two of the major global manufacturers.



And finally Brendon, it’s not widely known you effectively manage yourself, but nonetheless there is also some very valuable support behind the scenes. Tell us about that.


I've had great support from the very beginning from PJ (Peter Johnston), Barrie and Louise Thomlinson and like all of the New Zealand drivers I've been lucky to have great support back home in New Zealand.

From the very beginning PJ was supporting me as the tyre sponsor in Formula Ford and that carried over into the Toyota Racing Series. Barrie was running that of course and together they helped set up the shareholders who helped fund me very early on in going to Europe and being picked up by Red Bull. So yes, they have been there from the very beginning. They have been through the tough times and the good times.


Any sport, business or walk of life you are going to have ups and downs and provided that you can learn from the dozens and turn them into a positive from which you can learn and that's no different from recent times or from the beginning.


I'd also like to mention my wife Sarah, we've been together since we were fifteen years old, she's a training buddy, PA, travel agent and pretty much does everything, so Sarah is a big part of the team. In general it's me that gets on the phone for the key conversations. That’s not to detract from the support of these guys though, it's been absolutely massive.


And of course, New Zealanders have been massively supportive over the past year and more. On my social media and elsewhere and that's been very evident. I’m hugely grateful for that and it does make a difference.