Has Hartley done enough to stay in F1?

Just over a year ago Brendon Hartley made his F1 debut replacing Carlos Sainz but now faces the real possibility that his F1 career is over as quickly as it began but has Hartley done enough to stay in F1?

Hartley was originally a junior programme while he was progressing through the junior categories but a lacklustre second season in Formula Renault 3.5 where he was teammates with current Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo he would soon be dropped by the Red Bull programme in favour of Jean-Eric Vergne. Hartley would still progress GP2 but fail to complete a full season before making the switch to sports cars.

2014 would see Hartley compete with the Porsche LMP1 team and would eventually claim 2 WEC titles and 1 LeMans win, Hartley made a name for himself and the struggles he had in junior categories would be a distant memory. Meanwhile the programme that dropped him in 2010 were in need of a driver, Carlos Sainz had signed a contract with Renault and Daniil Kvyat had underperformed so the team would need a completely new driver lineup.

Pierre Gasly was the only driver in their stable ready for Formula One so Red Bull would need to look outside of their programme for a driver, Hartley earlier that same year made a phone call to Red Bull Motorsport boss Helmut Marko about giving him an opportunity in the future now that Porsche were leaving WEC and this would enable Hartley to get his chance in F1 7 years after it appeared to be over.

Hartley made his debut in the 2017 US Grand Prix. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Hartley’s first few race in the sport would prove challenging, he had no experience in a current F1 car and hadn’t driven a single-seater since 2012. To add to his challenge Toro Rosso would face regular engine penalties due to poor reliability from the Renault engine and Brendon would start from the back on his 4 races of 2017. Hartley would fail to score a point in 2017 but there would be an opportunity for the team in 2018 after they announced they would be running Honda power as the sole team with their engines.

2018 so far has been a struggle for Brendon, the Honda power unit isn’t fast nor reliable and Toro Rosso have also struggled with their chassis. Hartley’s teammate Pierre Gasly has had a strong season with a best finish of 4th place in Bahrain and had generally had the pace over Hartley throughout the season.

Hartley scored his first point in Baku which appeared to be his breakthrough but a huge crash in practice in Spain would see his confidence damaged almost as much as his car and he would be unable to participate in qualifying.

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Hartley would suffer a 160mph crash wrecking his car before qualifying. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Another crash courtesy of a suspension failure in practice in Britain would see the Kiwi miss out on yet another qualifying session, Hartley just wouldn’t have the luck. Germany proved to be much stronger and would score another point in a wet-dry race but there was already much speculation that Red Bull were keen on replacing him.

Daniel Riccardo would then shock the world of F1 by announcing that he would leave Red Bull to join Renault in 2019, the senior team would then opt to promote Pierre Gasly to Red Bull which appeared to give Hartley a lifeline.

To the amazement of the F1 paddock Toro Rosso would resign Daniil Kvyat for 2019 a year after they opted to drop him from the Red Bull programme which through Hartley’s future into further doubt. Red Bull yet again faced the same problem as they did last year; they didn’t have any young drivers ready for Toro Rosso, Dan Ticktum is the highest placed junior driver but doesn’t have the necessary super licence points to race in F1.

In 2019 Daniil Kvyat will race for Toro Rosso for a 3rd time. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

Helmut Marko has stated that Brendon Hartley needs to beat his teammate Pierre Gasly in the reaming races if he wants to retain his seat with the team. Hartley has been very outspoken recently by the lack of support he has had and his performances against his teammate and is no doubt very frustrated with the constant speculation about his future which he has had to content with all year.

Suzuka has proved to be a turning point for Hartley though, he had his best qualifying of the year with 6th but Toro Rosso’s poor race pace and a bad start for Brendon prevented him and the team scoring points at Honda’s home track. Hartley would then score 2 more points in the US a year on from his F1 debut and had a solid weekend in Mexico where he had the measure of his teammate before damage to his floor in a collision with Esteban Ocon hurt his pace.

9th in the United States would be Hartley’s best finish to date. Copyright: Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda

There are only 2 races left in the season for Brendon to prove to Red Bull that he deserves to stay but he arguably has already done that in the past few weekends. Red Bull isn’t the most forgiving environment and with rumours that they will sign F2 driver Alexander Albon in place of Hartley it may already be too late.

Hartley has recently turned a corner and yet may lose his drive in F1 but being outside of Red Bull may be the best thing for Brendon’s development and can turn to a test and reserve role with another team ready to return in 2020 or reconnect with Porsche when they join Formula E later next year.

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