Brendon Hartley is relishing the opportunity to make his surprise Formula 1 debut in the United States Grand Prix next weekend, hailing the preparation offered by Porsche’s LMP1 program in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 2015 WEC champion and reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans winner was confirmed to be racing at the Circuit of The Americas next weekend with Toro Rosso, seven years after being dropped from Red Bull’s junior driver program, in place of Pierre Gasly, who is tied up with duties in Super Formula at Suzuka.
Hartley has not taken part in official F1 running since a test with Mercedes in 2012, having focused on sports cars since 2014, but is embracing the surprise call-up made possible by his success in the WEC that gives him the required points for an FIA Super License.
“As soon as this weekend is over, the full focus goes onto a big, new challenge next week. There’s a lot to learn in one week,” Hartley said.
“I feel ready for it, honestly. This program has taught me a lot. Working with guys like Mark [Webber], Timo [Bernhard], Earl [Bamber], in such a good project where we’re at the forefront of technology and part of development.
“I think I’ve got [a lot of that] as a driver. It’s going to be a busy week for me but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Hartley’s F1 debut comes at the end of a rollercoaster season for the New Zealander that has seen him fight back to a maiden victory at Le Mans, as well as winning Petit Le Mans last weekend in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale.
“It’s happened quite quickly. I had quite a bit on my mind over the last week and especially at Petit Le Mans as well,” Hartley explained.
“It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s going to be a dream come true. I’ve thought about that moment since I was a little kid. I’m glad to represent the WEC. I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m going to embrace it and most importantly I’m going to try and enjoy it.”
Teammate and compatriot Earl Bamber is pleased to see the WEC be represented on such a global platform as F1, believing Toro Rosso’s decision to draft in Hartley proves the quality of drivers in the endurance series.
“I think it’s good for the WEC. The fact that Formula 1 can look into this championship and say, ‘We need to choose a driver from here’, I think that [shows] the level of drivers and level of teams and these programs,” Bamber said.
“If he didn’t win the championships, he wouldn’t have the Super License points. You need to be winning here in order to get the Super License points.
“It’s pretty cool. Now I’ve got a reason to watch!”
While Hartley has only been confirmed for the United States GP, he would be available to feature in the final three F1 races of the season as there are no clashes with WEC events.
However, it would set up a relentless seven-week run of racing for Hartley, starting on Sunday at Fuji, with the United States GP, Mexican Grand Prix, WEC Shanghai, Brazilian Grand Prix, WEC Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix all falling on consecutive weekends.
Should Hartley impress at COTA, he could put himself in contention for a full-time F1 drive with Toro Rosso in 2018, having already angled for a move into single-seaters upon the closure of Porsche’s LMP1 program at the end of the year.
Hartley had been expected to take up a drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing next year but may be an option for Toro Rosso given its lack of alternatives and the ongoing struggles for Daniil Kvyat.
Hartley can win a second WEC title this weekend in Sunday’s Six Hours of Fuji if he finishes ahead of the No. 8 Toyota TS050 crew alongside teammates Bamber and Timo Bernhard, with the trio set to start the race from pole position.