Palmerston North’s Brendon Hartley will become the first New Zealander to start a Formula One Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, but the 28-year- old feels primed for the challenge as one of the best-prepared F1 rookies in recent memory.
Hartley has joined Red Bull B-team Toro Rosso for his first full campaign in F1 – following on from an out-of- the-blue call-up last year to replace Carlos Sainz in Austin, his one-off stand extending to the end of the season, and into 2018.
And the talented Kiwi feels relaxed ahead of this year’s 21-race calendar, with Hartley a former Red Bull Racing reserve driver, and a Mercedes F1 simulator driver, not to mention his stellar career in sportscars that includes two World Endurance Championships and last year’s Le Mans win.
“Yeah, the last 12 months have been surreal,” Hartley said, “including my win at Le Mans, my Formula 1 debut, a second world championship with Porsche. I also got married in January, and then became a fulltime F1 driver.
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“I’ve had some time over the last few months to take it all in and recharge the batteries, which I needed to after the end of last year as it was brutal.
“But, I feel ready for this new journey and challenge and a lot more prepared than I was last year going to Austin. There’s a bit more expectation that comes along with that, but I feel ready and excited and looking forward to, hopefully, proving I deserve to be here for a bit longer.”
Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix will be a major test – his result in qualifying against team-mate Pierre Gasly crucial for his F1 career moving forward, but the biggest challenge comes later in the year in Singapore.
For the fans, it’s all about trackside parties and F1 under lights.
For the drivers, it’s the toughest race of the year with cockpit temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius at racing speeds, made only worse by three layers of fireproof clothing and a helmet.
“Everyone says Singapore is one of the highlights on the calendar,” Hartley said.
“There’s a lot of highlights on the calendar, but it’s definitely one of the greats. It is also arguably the most physically demanding, which is something that’s been relayed back from many of the drivers because of the heat, the workload through the lap, as well as the focus required to put the F1 car wall to wall.”
“So, there will need to be some heat training. Luckily I’ve got some time before then because modern F1 cars are extremely physical to drive. As much as some drivers would like to tell you they don’t feel it at all, they’re tough.”