YOU ASK THE QUESTIONS
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!
“I’D BEEN WITH RED BULL SINCE 2006, SO WHEN THEY DROPPED ME IT FELT LIKE A NEW START AND MEANT I COULD TAKE CONTROL OF MY DESTINY. I CAME BACK STRONGER
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