NZ driving duo set for farewell
It will be a bittersweet moment for Kiwis Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber when they take the track for Porsche in the final round of the 2017 World Endurance Championship in Bahrain.
The duo, alongside German team-mate Timo Bernhard, locked up the LMP1 title two weeks ago, easing the pressure on their final race before the team pulls out of WEC after the Six Hours of Bahrain.
Pressure is something Hartley has constantly juggled for the past five weeks. This will be his sixth consecutive week of racing as he jumps between Formula One and WEC.
While this weekend’s result means little, Hartley’s F1 credentials mean he will be firmly under the spotlight yet again.
The 28-year-old has yet to sign a F1 contract for 2018, but Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost all but confirmed the Kiwi would be hanging around.
Tost told Autosport the decision to sign Hartley and team-mate Pierre Gasly ultimately lies with Red Bull, before suggesting the duo would return. ‘‘Both drivers are strong assets to the team, and therefore I don’t see any others going in the car for next year,’’ he said.
His F1 drives have been marred by an unreliable car, but he won’t have that problem in Bahrain as he looks to make the most of one final spin in the Porsche 919 Hybrid. In Hartley’s time at Porsche he has 12 race wins under his belt, two WEC titles and one 24 Hours of Le Mans win.
‘‘I have so many incredible memories with the 919 Hybrid, team-mates, and all the boys and girls from the Porsche LMP Team. We shared something very special together,’’ he said.
‘‘After developing the Porsche 919 for more than four years, it’s an absolute dream to drive so we will all be enjoying every last lap. On one side there will be a lot of sadness, but on the other hand we will be giving everything to give this project the ultimate send off it deserves.’’
It is easy to see why he is emotional about the team’s exit. Hartley owes much of his recent rise to Porsche resurrecting his career when they signed him in 2013.
It gave him experience and, with the announcement of their withdrawal from WEC, the impetus to reach out to Red Bull for a final chance of cracking F1.
Meanwhile, Bamber, who has signed to return with Porsche in the GT-category next year, owes Porsche for giving him the exposure he had been lacking in his career.
‘‘Becoming one of the main LMP drivers has been a fantastic year in which I was learning a lot,’’ he said. ‘‘Stopping now feels difficult because I feel every race weekend we are getting better and better and there is still a lot more performance and a lot more that we can show.’’
Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley have one final race together before Porsche pull out of the WEC.