On October 13, a rumour came off the website of British-based
Autosport magazine that Brendon Hartley was in pole position to take the vacant seat in Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s second team. On the strength of nothing more than a wheeze, albeit from a respected source, the phone started going crazy. I no sooner had Tv-channel Three wondering if it could visit, when Radio Sport asked if it was possible to have a chat. I thought back half a century to when Denny Hulme won the world championship and it received scant coverage here, initially at least. Now, on a sniff, our media were excited — it’s a sign of just what Formula 1 (F1) means today. In a flash, the rumour was confirmed, and not only would New Zealand be celebrating having an F1 driver for the first time since 1984, but there was also even the possibility that if this one-off drive in Austin led to a full-time gig for 2018, it would mean two of our nine ever F1 drivers would have been born in Palmerston North Hospital — Brendon and Chris Amon, and they’re both Le Mans winners. I write this between the US Grand Prix and the Mexican round, where Brendon has been again selected, and he’s in for the rest of the year. His performance in Austin was solid — eighthfastest lap in the race (close to a second quicker than his teammate) and the weekend completed without putting a mark on the car. He hadn’t raced an open-wheeler since 2012, and could barely recall the last time he’d made a standing start. Fingers crossed that by the time you read this, he’ll have been confirmed to a 2018 contract — the signs are positive.