Dreaming Big: What Brendon Hartley’s F1 Debut Means for 2018

On the eve of his Formula 1 debut with Toro Rosso at his weekends United States Grand Prix, we take a look at the wider implications that could come about of this move by Toro Rosso to give the former Red Bull program driver his Formula 1 debut.

There is no doubting that Hartley is fully deserving of his Formula 1 debut after the great success he has had with Porsche in LMP1. Hartley is the 2015 World Endurance Champion with Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard, 2017 Le Mans 24 hours winner and surely heading towards the crown again this year with Bernhard and Earl Bamber.

Hartley of course was part of Red Bull’s driver program several years ago and tested for Toro Rosso and Red Bull in 2009. Unfortunately, he was dropped in 2010, and his last chance to experience F1 machinery was with Mercedes in 2012. In 2014 he joined Porsche’s LMP1 program, and from there his stock rose and rose and he is now one of the top sportscar drivers in the world.

The picking of Hartley to replace Pierre Gasly, who is of course trying to win the Super Formula title at Suzuka this weekend, came as a surprise to some but it’s a decision that makes sense. Toro Rosso have used this opportunity to evaluate another driver for 2018.

Daniil Kvyat is a quick guy but is now damaged goods to a certain extent. The demoting to Toro Rosso in Spain last year knocked his confidence massively, and then the removal to allow Gasly to debut in Malaysia this year will no doubt have added to that misery he felt in 2016. Red Bull clearly are not 100% convinced they want him in the car next year, and are equally not stupid enough to be blind to the fact that Hartley has become very highly rated.

If he outperforms Kvyat this weekend in Texas, which is perfectly possible, he could well be in line for a full season debut for 2018, helped by the fact that Porsche are pulling out of the WEC at the end of this year.

The move to use a former program driver could be seen as a bit of an embarrassing u-turn for Red Bull, indicating that they were indeed foolish to drop the Kiwi back in 2010. But it should not be seen that way.

It should be viewed as the second chance for a driver, who has always been quick enough for Formula 1, finally getting the chance to prove it and to show Red Bull exactly what they were missing out on for those seven years or so.

Hartley’s debut this weekend is an exciting prospect, not only for this year but for 2018 as well. If he does perform as expected and even beat Kvyat, it could well spell the end of the Russian’s time in the Red Bull program, for 2018 at least.

Red Bull have shown creativity and intelligence signing up Hartley for at least this one race – they’re certainly looking at the bigger pitcutre. And Hartley has every reason to dream big. This could be one of the biggest moments of his racing career.

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