A now former F1 driver Brendon Hartley reflected proudly on his short career in the pinnacle of motor racing with a positive determination of a comeback in the future.
It has been a fairy-tale journey for Hartley – one he can be proud of certainly. After getting dropped from the Red Bull programme early on his career, the Kiwi found his career back on track with Porsche with the switch to sportscar racing.
Together with his teammate at various juncture, Hartley not only won the Le Mans 24 Hours but also twice took the drivers’ title in the FIA World Endurance Championship – something which cannot be taken back from him.
His heroics in WEC did not go unnoticed as Red Bull handed him his F1 debut with Toro Rosso in 2017 US GP as the 29-year-old finally had his dream unlocked of competing in F1 by overcoming all the hardships.
He got a full year in 2018 but a challenging season resulted in Red Bull signing Alexander Albon for 2019 despite the long-term deal with Hartley. The Kiwi has no regrets though as he feels much stronger as a driver and vows to comeback for the unfinished job.
Hartley reflected positively on his short F1 stint along with the glorious sportscar racing career and bowed out – for now – with his head held high. Darshan Chokhani caught up with Hartley during the Abu Dhabi GP for an exclusive chat, here’s what he said:
Q) How do you see your first full F1 season?
Brendon Hartley: “It was a tricky start with few missed opportunities. I have been seven years away from single-seaters racing and I didn’t think it was going to be such a challenge to get back on the groove, it took a little bit longer than expected.
“But what I am very proud is the way I progressed through the season, improved, evolved, change my purge and finished a lot stronger than I started. So, I am really proud of my recent performances, qualifying performances has been stood out in Japan, for example.
“Being able to out perform my teammate consistently [towards the end], especially in the races, I am really proud of the progression I have made under difficult circumstances with a lot of pressure and I feel that I have come out of the season as a much stronger driver and an individual. Yeah, happy with the progression made – if it went the other way, it would have been an issue.”
Q) You talked about seven years away from single-seater racing, was it difficult to adjust to the new generation of cars or getting back to groove in a single-seater after sportscar?
BH: “It is a combination. It is different environment, extremely different tyres which are big part of the job [these days]. A new team of people around me, being a bit more under the spotlight and increased pressure.
“Plus a lot of different factors that adds up to bit of adjustments [to be made], but I am happy with how I dealt with it as a professional, as a team player and how I finished the season.”
Q) What were your highlights of the season – whether good or bad?
BH: “I think just the last few races finishing so strongly. We haven’t had the car competitive enough to get a big haul of points but my performances in the last few races have been really-really strong.
“I think Japan, qualifying P6 was a big highlight, didn’t have the pace in the race as Pierre and I went backwards and then Austin, coming through from dead last, scoring P9. Even in Brazil, starting sixteen and came through to 11th, I feel like I did the maximum job.”
Q) You had few races last year and told about certain areas to improve, did you manage to do that you reckon this year?
BH: “Of course. Every element, you know there’s a lot…it is a very complicated sport and I am not going into every detail but I have improved in a lot of different areas. I am mentally stronger and I know how to put a Formula 1 weekend together and pieces to get myself and get the most out of the people around me a lot better than I did one year ago.
“It’s normal after one season of racing, coming in as a rookie, and yeah, it is a complicated sport, it is very much a team sport which sometimes people forget – more than 500 people in Toro Rosso alone. I have improved in a lot of areas and came out of the season a lot stronger.”
Q) We await for your future decision but content with what you have achieved thus far especially to get to race in F1 which has been the dream?
BH: “No, I feel I have unfinished business in F1 and I feel I deserve to stay here, especially having a long-term contract with Red Bull and I know what I have brought to the team. It is not always that simple. There’s millions and millions of other reasons that are potentially at play and that factor which are outside of my control.
“Obviously, I am really proud of my story, how I arrived in Formula 1 and how I made my way back and conquered the adversity in tough times. I definitely am not wanting to leave and I feel I still have to add more to the story.”
Q) But what could be next if not F1? Anything like Fernando Alonso is doing with Triple Crown?
BH: “I feel like I have more to do in Formula 1, so that’s my immediate focus.
Q) OK. Getting back to F1, your relation with Red Bull and Toro Rosso seemed a bit iffy in the last few races where we read you were not allowed to speak up certain things. How do you it now?
BH: “I have a great relationship with everyone in Honda and all the people I work with engineering, mechanics and have a fantastic relationship in Toro Rosso and none of that is changed.
“The engineers, mechanics and the people that make the stop watch move in a team. I have been working very well with them and I am really happy with the relationship from the start to the end.”
Q) And your relation with Pierre? Obviously, it started very well but in the last few events it seemed off especially with the radio communication in Brazil…
BH: I think the communication on the radio was very clear.
Q) OK. You think as a teammate you have the same relation you have with him now than what it was at the start then?
BH: For sure it changes and especially at the end of the season, I have been consistently out-performing him and sometimes that can change the relationship a little bit. I still have a lot of respect for Pierre, he’s had a fantastic season but I know that I have finished very strong.”
Q) Do you think a lot of your behind the scene work is not reflected in the front? Does it frustrate you?
BH: “In the end, people that need to know, they know. It is a team sport. There were many races where my race was compromised to help the other car to score points, so whatever it is, there were opportunities that I didn’t score as much at the start of the season.
“Sometimes [there were] not as good a performance from my side as it could have been which I have definitely improved through the season but also I had my fair share of bad luck – there’s no questioning that.
“Like I said before, I am proud of the progress I have made and how I have improved as a driver. Yeah, maybe the scoreboard doesn’t show as well as it should but it is a team sport which sometimes people forget.”
Q) So, if the F1 career ends and there is no comeback, what will you say you have learnt from here?
BH: “I have learnt a lot, I am a lot stronger individual. It is such a complex sport. It is a lot of skills that are transferable from Formula 1 to everyday life, to businesses. In the end, Formula 1 is a big business and I am one piece of the puzzle.
“I don’t want to tell you one thing, there are thousands of things. Being a sportsperson in general, but in such a complex environment, it is lot of experience that you take away from Formula 1.”
Q) Finally, with F1, Le Mans win and also two WEC titles – if I ask you to choose which one has been memorable, what will you say?
BH: “What I must say is my Le Mans win together with the team was the most emotional and highlight of my career. That being said, I am very-very proud to be in Formula 1 but I feel like there’s more to give.
“I haven’t been on a Formula 1 podium, that’s an example. I don’t want to compare the two as I have been in a team which is fighting for the back end of the points rather than the team fighting for race wins, so that’s different situations.”