FLASH DRIVE

Kiwi For­mula 1 driver Bren­don Hart­ley’s bid for suc­cess on mo­tor­sport’s big­gest stage has so far been a bumpy ride. Ste­wart Bell catches up with the 28-yearold racer from Palmer­ston North.

North & South - - Contents - BY STE­WART BELL

Kiwi For­mula 1 driver Bren­don Hart­ley has hit some speed bumps as he gears up for the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix.

For­mula 1 is the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport, a com­pet­i­tive caul­dron for the very best of the best. It’s a case of ar­rive, de­liver and suc­ceed – or go and find an­other drive in a lesser se­ries. It’s that bru­tal.

So it’s in­cred­i­bly rare a sec­ond chance is given. But Palmer­ston North’s Bren­don Hart­ley is en­joy­ing just that with Red Bull’s B-team Toro Rosso. The 28-year- old found his way back to F1 by win­ning the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year – and twice se­cur­ing the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship with Porsche (in 2015 and 2017). Luck has played its part, too.

But all that’s a long way from where his jour­ney be­gan, at a lo­cal go-kart track at the Man­feild events cen­tre in Feild­ing, where Hart­ley dreamed of em­u­lat­ing his all-time Grand Prix hero, Jean Alesi. “My ear­li­est mem­o­ries were watch­ing my old man [Bryan] at the race­track, and I have an older brother [ Nel­son] who started rac­ing be­fore me,” he says.

“To be hon­est, it’s all I ever wanted to do – go rac­ing. The track was where all our week­ends were spent; if it wasn’t work­ing on the go-karts or race cars, it was test­ing or rac­ing them. Dad,

who’s an en­gine builder, gave up rac­ing to help my brother and me get into gokarts. So it was a real fam­ily af­fair.”

Hart­ley built on that fam­ily sup­port, win­ning races in the New Zealand For­mula Ford Cham­pi­onship, be­fore com­pet­ing in the highly rated sin­gle-seater Toy­ota Rac­ing Se­ries. But with money run­ning out, Hart­ley’s fam­ily got in touch with Red Bull mo­tor­sport con­sul­tant Dr Hel­mut Marko. One of the most pow­er­ful men in F1, Marko runs Red Bull’s ju­nior team. And as luck would have it, Marko had been watch­ing Hart­ley. A con­tract to join the squad fol­lowed.

Then the real work be­gan. At the age of 16, Hart­ley moved to Europe. With­out his fam­ily, he had to live by him­self. “The first year, I left friends, fam­ily and home and moved to a small town in East Ger­many,” he says. “I had a New Zealand me­chanic, who was some­one to lean on, which was great. Oth­er­wise, it was a full Ger­man team.

“My par­ents came to visit me once dur­ing the year; they just couldn’t take time off work. I had to learn how to cook, which was pretty much pasta ev­ery night. There were so many dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and a lot of trav­el­ling around Europe – places I could barely lo­cate on the map be­fore I went away.”

Ini­tially, Hart­ley made the most of it, tak­ing out the For­mula Re­nault 2.0 Eurocup in 2007, then fin­ish­ing third in the British For­mula 3 cham­pi­onship in 2008. The same year, he went to Ma­cau – its street track is con­sid­ered the tough­est of all – and fought back from 20th to third. That drive opened up a For­mula 1 test at Red Bull Rac­ing, re­plac­ing an in­jured Mark Web­ber. “This was what I’d been work­ing for all my life,” says Hart­ley. “I phoned home straight away and let it ring un­til I’d wo­ken my whole fam­ily.”

In 2009, he was given the cov­eted re­serve driver role for Ital­ian rac­ing team Toro Rosso – one step away from an F1 race seat. But things were about to un­ravel. “I was rac­ing in two other Euro­pean se­ries, as well as at­tend­ing F1 races and stay­ing pre­pared to step into the car at any mo­ment,” he says.

“I was 19, but I was ex­hausted. I was lost. I didn’t know my place in the pad­dock. I didn’t know what was ex­pected of me. Men­tally, I just wasn’t ready. It af­fected my re­sults in the other two se­ries, which is the only place you can prove your­self as a test driver. I lost con­fi­dence and ul­ti­mately be­came un­happy and burnt out.”

His lack of re­sults in For­mula Re­nault 3.5 ul­ti­mately led to Hart­ley part­ing ways with Red Bull, but that didn’t get the re­silient Kiwi down – nor his long-time part­ner Sarah Wil­son (the cou­ple mar­ried in Jan­uary).

“I had to ask my­self a lot of ques­tions and call on peo­ple for ad­vice,” he says. “But the truth of it was I didn’t re­ally have an op­tion. I was also com­mit­ted at that point to be­ing in Europe, so it was a bit of a wake-up call.”

Hart­ley’s path back in­volved him do­ing some sim­u­la­tor and test work for a ri­val F1 team, Mercedes, while Wil­son worked shifts at a restau­rant. He then went to Porsche as a fac­tory driver of the 919 Hy­brid in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship ( WEC), mark­ing a four-year re­turn to form.

In June 2017, Hart­ley cap­tured one of mo­tor­sport’s most fa­mous prizes, win­ning the 24 Hours of Le Mans along­side Timo Bern­hard and Earl Bam­ber with Porsche.

When Porsche with­drew from the WEC at the end of 2017, the For­mula 1 door re­opened for Hart­ley, who’d main­tained his re­la­tion­ship with Red Bull’s Marko. Last Oc­to­ber, Hart­ley re­joined the team fold and was given a drive at the US Grand Prix in Austin. He took 13th on de­but, and im­pressed with his nat­u­ral speed, the qual­ity of his tech­ni­cal feed­back, and eco­nom­i­cal use of fuel learned from en­durance rac­ing.

His per­for­mance earned him a drive for the rest of the 2017 sea­son, which he com­bined with the re­main­der of his WEC sea­son.

For 2018, Red Bull handed him a full­time drive, based on four races. “I tried to keep it sim­ple, and called on all that ex­pe­ri­ence I had in all those years rac­ing

go-karts,” says Hart­ley.

Half­way through the sea­son, he has had a tough run, with a se­ries of dra­matic crashes, and only two point scores, in­clud­ing a 10th place in Ger­many on July 22. The fol­low­ing week­end, he was “gut­ted” af­ter fin­ish­ing in 11th place at the Hun­gar­ian Grand Prix, one place out­side the points.

Nine races re­main for him to prove him­self on the For­mula 1 stage, in­clud­ing the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix in Septem­ber, the clos­est event for Kiwi mo­tor­sport fans since the Aus­tralian Grand Prix in Mel­bourne back in March. Hart­ley hasn’t raced Sin­ga­pore’s Ma­rina Bay Street Cir­cuit be­fore, “but ev­ery­one says it’s one of the high­lights on the cal­en­dar”, he says.

Sin­ga­pore of­fers rac­ing un­der lights and prides it­self on its off- track en­ter­tain­ment, which this year in­cludes the Killers, Liam Gal­lagher, Tai­wanese singer Jay Chou, English pop­star Dua Lipa, Sim­ply Red, Amer­i­can hip-hop veter­ans the Su­garhill Gang and Dutch DJ Martin Gar­rix.

For the driv­ers, For­mula 1 rac­ing is a bru­tal test of fit­ness and en­durance. Cock­pit tem­per­a­tures reach 60°C at speeds of up to 320kmh, ex­ac­er­bated by three lay­ers of fire­proof cloth­ing and a rac­ing hel­met; driv­ers can lose up to 3kg in fluid over a two-hour pe­riod.

Dur­ing cor­ner­ing, brak­ing and ac­cel­er­at­ing, they can also ex­pe­ri­ence lat­eral G-forces as high as 6.5 to 7. That’s like ly­ing on your side with six times your own body weight press­ing down on top of you. Neck mus­cles are un­der mas­sive pres­sure, and there’s al­ways the risk of go­ing wheel-to-wheel with an­other driver – some­times with cat­a­strophic con­se­quences.

“[ Sin­ga­pore] is ar­guably the most phys­i­cally de­mand­ing race on the cal­en­dar, be­cause of the heat and the work­load dur­ing the lap,” says Hart­ley, whose lean frame is typ­i­cal of high­per­for­mance driv­ers, who need strength and stamina with­out bulk.

For New Zealand fans, Hart­ley’s shot at For­mula 1 stirs mem­o­ries of the 1960s and 70s glory days, when Kiwi le­gends Bruce Mclaren, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon were at the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport.

“We have a huge her­itage in mo­tor­sports,” he says. “I’m re­ally proud to be one of the Ki­wis com­pet­ing at an in­ter­na­tional level.” +

Above: Kiwi Bren­don Hart­ley, a For­mula 1 driver for Red Bull’s Toro Rosso team, at the British Grand Prix in July. Op­po­site: Sparks fly as Hart­ley qual­i­fies for the Chi­nese Grand Prix in Shang­hai in April.

Above: From go-karts to Grand Prix... Bren­don Hart­ley be­gan rac­ing in go-karts at the age of six at the Man­feild track in Feild­ing, and now drives for Toro Rosso on the For­mula 1 cir­cuit (pho­tographed above right at the Cana­dian Grand Prix in June).

Top: Hart­ley back­stage at a fash­ion show in May ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix. Mid­dle: Drama on the open­ing lap of the Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix last year, when Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, Kimi Räikkö­nen and Max Ver­stap­pen crashed out. Vet­tel re­mains the most suc­cess­ful driver in Sin­ga­pore, with four wins. Above: The Ma­rina Bay Street Cir­cuit, where the Sin­ga­pore Air­lines Sin­ga­pore Grand Prix will be held Septem­ber 14-16 (for more in­for­ma­tion, visit sin­ga­poregp.sg).

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