Toro Rosso’s Bren­don Hart­ley an­swers your ques­tions


The nar­ra­tive of a hap­pily-ever-after fairy tale sel­dom runs smoothly. And for Bren­don Hart­ley, his sur­prise re­turn to a place in F1 – years after be­ing cast out of the Red Bull young driver pro­gramme – has taken place against a back­ground of ru­mour­mon­ger­ing and spec­u­la­tion. De­spite his best ef­forts, his po­si­tion has been un­der threat al­most since the be­gin­ning of this sea­son.

De­spite all this, he has cho­sen to re­main cheer­ful and pos­i­tive and seems de­ter­mined to make the most of a sit­u­a­tion that seemed en­tirely im­plau­si­ble 18 months ago, when he was a star of the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship and barely reg­is­ter­ing a blip on the F1 radar. Hart­ley re­mains one of the most ap­proach­able, thought­ful and elo­quent char­ac­ters in For­mula 1, some­thing that can per­haps be at­trib­uted to this most con­vo­luted and char­ac­ter-build­ing jour­ney to the pin­na­cle of mo­tor­sport.

It’s lit­tle won­der, then, that his eyes twin­kle with amuse­ment as he catches sight of the stack of F1 Rac­ing reader ques­tions. With­out a hint of trep­i­da­tion – and it’s not of­ten we can say that – he flips over the first card…

What is the most chal­leng­ing as­pect of For­mula 1 com­pared with other types of rac­ing you’ve done? Sarah Bolton, UK

There are many things about be­ing a For­mula 1 driver that are com­plex and chal­leng­ing. If I com­pare it with the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, for ex­am­ple, the cars are equally com­plex but the pres­sure that is put on a driver when you aren’t used to it feels as if it’s on a much higher level. You’re not shar­ing the car, you don’t have two other drivers com­ing to one com­mon agree­ment on setup – and then on top of that there is much more at­ten­tion from the me­dia and ev­ery­thing you do is closely scru­ti­nised. Ear­lier on in the sea­son it took me quite a while to get used to that. But what can be es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing in For­mula 1 com­pared with other cat­e­gories is time man­age­ment be­cause you’re al­ways busy. But you also need to be 100 per cent fo­cused on your job, which is mak­ing the car as fast as pos­si­ble and get­ting the most out of it.

Now you’ve fi­nally made it to For­mula 1, is it ev­ery­thing you dreamed it would be? Peter Bentley, USA

I’ve dreamed of be­ing an F1 driver since I was rac­ing karts. Look­ing back, it would seem very un­re­al­is­tic to think I even had a shot – com­ing from New Zealand from a very mod­est fam­ily and not hav­ing a lot of fi­nan­cial back­ing. But some­how it hap­pened and I’ve en­joyed the process. Like any dream job, when you’re ac­tu­ally do­ing it for your day job some­times the pres­sure can make it less fun, but I’m con­stantly re­mind­ing my­self of how amaz­ing it is, how priv­i­leged I am, and what it means to be in F1. I think some­times drivers can look mis­er­able in the paddock and I’m try­ing not to be one of those – I’m re­ally try­ing to en­joy all the things that For­mula 1 of­fers.

Who has been the big­gest in­flu­ence on your ca­reer? Paul Fawkner-cor­bett, UK

It’s tricky be­cause I’ve met so many peo­ple in mo­tor­sport. So this is some­thing I’d pass on to any­one try­ing to come through: try to learn from ev­ery­one and any­one. Ob­vi­ously you have to fil­ter the good and bad ad­vice and how peo­ple work, and fig­ure out for your­self what works best for you. The first per­son that comes to mind is Mark Web­ber. I was his team-mate – I feel bad sin­gling him out as I’ve had other great team-mates – and he re­ally did take me un­der his wing and was happy to pass on the knowl­edge he had. I learned a lot from Mark and he’s be­come a friend. You al­ways pick some bangers for the Toro Rosso Garage Playlist, but do you ever get a chance to see any of th­ese bands live? Fern Lock, UK I’ve seen a few live bands. In the past I’ve been to a few con­certs in the UK with Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. I also went to the Down­load Fes­ti­val a few years ago where I saw Deftones and Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots and a few oth­ers. But there are a few of my favourite bands that I haven’t had a chance to see live yet…

F1 Rac­ing: Such as?

BH: A band I al­ways wanted to see live was Tool, and I know they’re tour­ing again so I need to make that hap­pen. I was a big fan of In­cubus as well, but I’ve never seen them live.

Is the Sin­ga­pore GP phys­i­cally harder than the Le Mans 24 Hours? Kacper Becker, Poland

Sin­ga­pore was def­i­nitely the tough­est GP I’ve taken part in. Com­pared with Le Mans it’s dif­fer­ent, but phys­i­cally, Sin­ga­pore is more dif­fi­cult. At Le Mans you get a few hours’ break and then you’re back in the car, and you’re men­tally very tired after the full week. Sin­ga­pore was very phys­i­cal: you’re busy, ul­tra­fo­cused, you don’t have a lot of straight lines to take a break. It’s hot, it’s hu­mid, you’re sit­ting on a big bat­tery, and there’s not a lot of air flow­ing through the cock­pit.

Would you con­sider join­ing your fel­low New Zealan­der Scott Dixon in Indycar? Barry War­ren, USA

I was pretty close to be­ing there this year if truth be told, so that’s prob­a­bly the eas­i­est way to an­swer that ques­tion!


Who are your New Zealand heroes? Ge­orge Stephen, Aus­tralia

Grow­ing up there was never an­other Kiwi driver in For­mula 1. Ob­vi­ously as I got older I be­came aware of our rich his­tory, es­pe­cially when I trav­elled to Europe. That’s when I re­alised there have been a lot of Kiwi drivers, team owners and me­chan­ics, and I think a lot of peo­ple re­spect us be­cause we’ve had to make a big com­mit­ment trav­el­ling from the other side of the world. I now re­alise that those who came before me forged that rep­u­ta­tion for the likes of me. I got to know Chris Amon before he passed away a couple of years ago, and we were able to dis­cuss Le Mans sto­ries. He was from a sim­i­lar area to me and I know his fam­ily very well.

Who cuts your hair? Rob Hughes, Aus­tralia

[Laughs] Her name’s Melissa, but I don’t know her last name. F1R: Do you tip gen­er­ously? BH: No, I’m a Kiwi – we don’t tip!

You’ve raced on a tremen­dous va­ri­ety of tracks in your ca­reer, in­clud­ing Le Mans, Ma­cau and Bathurst. Which is your favourite? John Slater, New Zealand

I have a list of favourites and those three are on the list. I can also add a couple more: Monaco, Spa, and I en­joyed Canada this year. It’s hard for me to name a sin­gle track and the list keeps on grow­ing. I’ve been very lucky to race on some of the best tracks in the world.

What is your big­gest fear in life? Alan Stoner, UK

I don’t know. Maybe not be­ing happy. I like ad­ven­tures, I like tak­ing my­self out of my com­fort zone, so for that rea­son I en­joy fear. I love rid­ing my moun­tain bike on rocky, treach­er­ous trails. What I would say is that with­out risk, life could be very bor­ing.

What did Hel­mut Marko say to you when Red Bull dropped you in 2010, and how did you re­cover from that set­back? John Adams, UK

It was dur­ing the Bri­tish Grand Prix and in some ways I ex­pected it, so there wasn’t much ar­gu­ment from me. I wasn’t in a good place and I hadn’t been per­form­ing. I was un­happy and it felt like a re­lief in some ways. I’d been with Red Bull since I came to Europe in 2006, so this felt like a new start and meant I could take con­trol of my des­tiny. It was a cru­cial part of my ca­reer and I learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence and came back stronger. And I ended up back here in the F1 paddock. I’m very proud of the jour­ney I’ve taken to get here.

How do you cope with con­stant spec­u­la­tion about los­ing your seat and does that ever get you down? Dun­can Wil­liams, UK

Ini­tially it was tricky, but it’s got eas­ier and eas­ier the more times peo­ple ask. After three or four races there was spec­u­la­tion and mas­sive pres­sure be­ing put on me, and I re­sponded by out­qual­i­fy­ing my team-mate by half a sec­ond in Mon­tréal. I guess I proved my­self. Monaco didn’t quite go to plan, but I think that I was faster in ev­ery free prac­tice ses­sion and I felt re­ally strong over the course of that week­end, even if qual­i­fy­ing was a bit of a mess-up. I felt as though, men­tally, I had re­sponded in the way that I had wanted to. But it has been a bit of a test for me. I have kept hav­ing to an­swer the ques­tion: can I still keep the fo­cus and do a good job? I know that ten years ago I wouldn’t have been able to.

Which would you pre­fer to drive: Le Mans in an F1 car or Monaco in a WEC car? Ben Mercer, Aus­tralia

That’s a good ques­tion! They are two of my favourite tracks. I’m just think­ing… an F1 car through the Porsche Curves would be a nicer ex­pe­ri­ence, so it would be Le Mans in an F1 car.

Sin­ga­pore (right): the tough­est chal­lenge of the year, ac­cord­ing to Hart­ley

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