Hartley: I wasn’t ready in 2010

Date published: December 13 2017

Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley concedes he wasn’t ready to compete at the highest level when he was initially given a shot by Red Bull, but feels he is a “more rounded” driver now.

The New Zealander had his first taste of Formula 1 action as an 18-year-old in 2008 when tested for Red Bull and the following year he was named the official reserve driver for the Milton Keynes team as well as Toro Rosso.

However, he was dropped from the Red Bull Junior Team in mid-2010, but instead of drowning in self-pity, he got his act together and competed in other series.

He was given another chance in Formula 1 this year when Toro Rosso asked him to stand in for Pierre Gasly at the US Grand Prix and he was eventually given Daniil Kvyat’s full-time seat.

Hartley admits he didn’t have enough experience when he made his initial breakthrough.

“I wasn’t ready at that point,” he told Motorsport.tv programme The Flying Lap.

“I have big respect for the likes of Max [Verstappen], who has come in at the age that I was.

“I had a real opportunity to be there, but when it came down to it I didn’t have all the experience that I needed and maybe support and I crumbled when I shouldn’t have.”

The 28-year-old believes he learned a lot of lessons during his first stint and feels he has upped his game since then.

“I learned a lot from that and I feel like I’m a lot more rounded driver today than I ever could have been at 18,” he added.

“The timing has been perfect and I think you keep on improving.

“I had a tough time, but it was also important for me to learn from.”

Tost: Kvyat deserves another chance in F1

Date published: December 12 2017

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost hopes Daniil Kvyat gets another chance in Formula 1 after being axed from the Red Bull driver programme.

The Russian was initially dropped by the Red Bull junior team ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix in favour of Pierre Gasly, but scored a point on his return at the United States Grand Prix.

However, soon after the race, it was confirmed Kvyat was to be dropped altogether from the Red Bull family and Toro Rosso would be going forward with Gasly and Brendon Hartley for the 2018 season.

It is believed that Kvyat is now a back-up option for the vacant Williams seat should a deal with Sergey Sirotkin fall through, and Tost thinks he deserves to have another opportunity to showcase his talent.

“I am still convinced that Daniil has a very high natural speed,” Tost told the official Formula 1 website.

“He was sometimes even faster than Daniel Riccardo, but somehow last year and this year he couldn’t show the potential that is within him.

“He was involved in many incidents – but in his defence I also have to say that he had many reliability issues and that didn’t help build up confidence.

“Being the victim of too many incidents killed the performance he would have been able to show. Maybe a short break – to get organized again – and probably we will see Daniil back at his usual performance level with another team.”

Tost also elaborated on what Kvyat’s main weakness and how that contributed to him being shown the door.

He added: “Sometimes he was too aggressive at the beginning of the race. The first corner was his weak point.

“He wanted too much in the first hundred metres – success by any means! That puts you under pressure – unnecessary pressure – and that never works. I hope for him that he gets another chance, as I think he deserves to be in F1.”

Hartley reflects on ‘tough learning process’

Date published: December 10 2017

Brendon Hartley has conceded that he has had a “tough” start to his Formula 1 career but believes the process will be “very important” if he wants to succeed in the sport.

Hartley made his debut at the United States Grand Prix with Toro Rosso, but it was part of a hectic schedule which saw him compete in the Petit Le Mans, 6 Hours of Fiji, US Grand Prix, Mexico Grand Prix, 6 Hours of Shanghai, Brazilian Grand Prix, 6 Hours of Bahrain and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“The learning process was steep and very important. It was tough. I’m not going to lie, especially with eight weekends on the trot,” Hartley said at the FIA Prize Giving Gala in Paris.

“That was a good experience for me, to learn what that takes out of you and what areas you need to improve. 

“That was the perfect introduction into Formula 1 in terms of preparing a season, having some real racing experience to start next year.

Hartley is looking forward to a well-earned rest, but is encouraged by the early signs as Toro Rosso begin a new relationship with Honda and he begins his first full Formula 1 campaign.

He added: “I’m looking forward to having a bit of a break, recharging the batteries, and coming back strong next year.

I’m hearing a lot of positive things out of Toro Rosso and out of Honda. I can’t wait to work alongside them next year, and hopefully prove my worth in Formula 1.”

Hasegawa to leave F1 in Honda reshuffle

Date published: December 7 2017

Honda have announced that Yusuke Hasegawa will be leaving his role as Formula 1 chief and taking up a new position on January 1.

Hasegawa has been head of Honda’s F1 project since 2016, taking over from predecessor Yasuhisa Arai, but the Japanese manufacturer’s relationship with McLaren continued to turn sour and resulted in a early divorce between the pair.

Now, as Honda start on a new chapter with Toro Rosso, they will do so by splitting Hasegawa’s role into two and operate with a F1 technical director and operating officer

The new technical officer, Toyoharu Tanabe, will be ‘directing the team at the spot of racing and testing’, while the as-yet-unnamed operating officer will  ‘oversee research and development and the overall operation of races and testing’.

Hasegawa will become Honda’s new executive chief engineer but it won’t be a role within the Formula 1 project.

“In the past, the Head of F1 Project assumed responsibility in both technological development and directing the team at the spot of racing,” said Katsuhide Moriyama, Honda’s chief officer for brand and communication operations.

“By separating these areas of responsibility, we will evolve our structure so that both the development team and racing/testing team can assume their respective responsibilities more speedily.

“By ensuring both the development team and racing team soundly fulfil their respective roles, Honda will continue its challenges so that fans can enjoy seeing Toro Rosso-Honda competing at the top level without further delay.”

Driver reviews: Force India, Williams, Renault, Toro Rosso

Next under the spotlight at the end of the season are the teams who battled it out in the midfield: Force India, Williams, Renault and Toro Rosso.

Force India

Sergio Perez

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 13-7
Average qualifying difference v team-mate: -0.073s
Race battle v team-mate:12-8
Best finish: 4th (Spain)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 53% (100 points)

Sergio Perez is one of the most predictable drivers on the Formula 1 grid and that is not meant to be a criticism.

After four years at Force India there is very little we do not know about the Mexican and it comes as little surprise to see him enter into the mix should one of the top six hit trouble.

Perez has been pushed very hard by team-mate Esteban Ocon and has still (just) managed to come out on top in this fascinating team-mate battle.

The only regret for him this season would be that he failed to clinch a podium finish, something he has managed to achieve in his previous three campaigns with Force India, but that in no way means that he has regressed as a driver in 2017.

Another strong season in 2018 feels inevitable, although he may have to work even harder for points if the likes of McLaren and Renault are able to make a big push forward alongside a team-mate who now has more experience.

Esteban Ocon

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 7-13
Average qualifying difference v team-mate: +0.073s
Race battle v team-mate: 8-12
Best finish: 5th (Spain, Mexico)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 47% (87 points)

2017 marks the end of a very encouraging and very exciting first full F1 campaign for the Frenchman who became known as ‘Esteban Oconsistency’ due to his rock-solid record of points finishes.

Ocon finishes in the points in all-but two races this season and he set the new record for most consecutive race finishes from the start of a Formula 1 career (27) before Romain Grosjean brought that mighty run to an end by crashing into him at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Ocon also improved on his qualifying performances in the second half of the season and, if he can bring both his Saturday and Sunday displays together from the off next year, it will give him great hope that he can get the better of his team-mate Sergio Perez in what promises to be another fiercely competitive battle.

As Ocon is still part of the Mercedes programme, 2018 is a very important year for him to stand-out and he will have his eyes firmly fixed on Valtteri Bottas’ seat should the Finn not do enough to earn a new contract.

Ocon has showed a maturity in Formula 1 beyond his years and he should be very proud of his debut season with Force India.

Williams

Felipe Massa

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 17-2
Average qualifying difference v team-mate: -0.702s
Race battle v team-mate: 13-7
Best finish: 6th (Australia, Bahrain)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 52% (43 points)

After last year’s false alarm, Felipe Massa has now retired from Formula 1. With 269 races under his belt and a Formula 1 career spanning 16 years, it will be strange not seeing his name next season – but it’s a change we have all been waiting for.

Given that he was supposed to retire at the end of the 2016 season, the majority have endured his performances this season rather than enjoyed them – with many believing that he was preventing another driver a good opportunity in Formula 1.

That frustration only grew as he continued to declare an interest in staying at Williams again for 2018 but, if you reflect on his results this season it is understandable to see why he was still on the shortlist for so long.

With Lance Stroll on the other side of garage, Williams do need an experienced driver and someone they can rely on to bring home the points on a regular basis. Those drivers are not easy to find and it will be very interesting to see if Robert Kubica can fill that spot given his life-changing injuries and a hectic 2018 schedule to come.

Massa finished inside the points in 13 of the 17 races he completed in 2017 (two retirements and one withdrawal) and while the overall excitement and buzz around him has been long gone. His consistency cannot go unnoticed.

He saved his best performance, not his best result, at the place where it mattered to him the most – P7 at the Brazilian Grand Prix – and it was a great way to bid farewell…finally.

Lance Stroll

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 2-17
Average qualifying difference v team-mate: +0.702s
Race battle v team-mate: 7-13
Best finish: 3rd (Baku)
Percentage of team’s Championship points: 48% (40 points)

Eyebrows were raised when Lance Stroll was announced as a Williams driver for 2017 and even more would have been raised when the Canadian gave himself a “solid 8.5” for his first season.

After crashes in winter testing and three retirements in his first three races (not all of his own doing), Stroll had a very difficult start to life in Formula 1.

The first real sign that Stroll belonged within the pinnacle of motorsport did not come until round six in his home race at Montreal where he claimed his first points finish of his career, and on merit too.

Then came his clear highlight of the season in Baku where he became the youngest-ever rookie to claim a podium finish. Even though that was such a great achievement so early in his career, it can be easy to forget that it could have been his team-mate Felipe Massa on the podium instead of him had the Brazilian not retired with a suspension issue.

Perhaps his most eye-catching performance came during qualifying at Monza, in tricky, wet conditions that would have made him one of the favourites to crash out. Again, that was only a brief glimmer as he has been well and truly schooled by Massa in qualifying throughout the season.

However, he defied those expectations with a very impressive P4 in qualifying in Italy and, because of penalties to Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, became the youngest driver to ever start on the front row of the grid.

But the positives are at least equalled out by the negatives this season.

If you look back at the later races in the season at Brazil and Abu Dhabi and the way he butchered the car there, it shows he still has quite a long way to go and a lot of work to do over the winter, to prove his doubters wrong once and for all.

An 8.5 is pushing it, a 5 would probably be a more realistic assessment of his up-and-down season.

Renault

Nico Hulkenberg

Qualifying score v team-mate: 3-1
Race battle v team-mate: 2-1
Best finish: 6th (Spain, Silverstone, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)

Nico Hulkenberg spent most of the 2017 season carrying Renault on his back given Jolyon Palmer’s inability to regularly deliver points for the Enstone team.

But ‘The Hulk’ is another driver who enjoyed a strong start to the season with five points-finishes, only to then become one of the main victims of Renault’s reliability problems which became more prevalent as the season developed.

We’ve only managed to get a glimpse of Hulkenberg being up against a much more competitive team-mate but, if the early evidence is anything to go by, then we will be in for a treat watching him and Carlos Sainz battle it out next season.

Carlos Sainz

Qualifying score v team-mate: 1-3
Race battle v team-mate: 1-2
Best finish: 6th (Monaco)

It was a season for Sainz where he ultimately got what he wanted…sort of. After starting his fourth year with Toro Rosso, the Spaniard got a very bad case of itchy feet and, in Austria, he stated his desire to drive for Red Bull.

That still may happen, but for now he is in another holding pattern at Renault after being a pawn in the engine deal game. He was able to start his new chapter a little earlier than expected once Renault gave Jolyon Palmer a big enough wheelbarrow of cash to leave and he slotted seamlessly into the team with a commendable P7 at the United States Grand Prix on debut.

With Max Verstappen’s long-term future sealed with Red Bull, it leaves Sainz looking to pounce on Daniel Ricciardo’s should the Aussie decide to leave the team at the end of next season.

For now, Sainz finds himself in the same situation as he did at Toro Rosso in that he is still viewed as a back-up option in Red Bull’s plans.

If a opportunity at Red Bull does not come Sainz’s way for 2019, he may be better served staying at Renault if they can continue their upward trajectory.

Toro Rosso

Pierre Gasly

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 1-1
Race battle v team-mate: 2-1
Best finish: 12th (Brazil)

Good things come to those who wait and, in Gasly’s case, it would have felt like an eternity after failing to land the Toro Rosso seat ahead of the 2017 season.

Whilst staying on as a reserve driver, the Frenchman headed for the Super Formula series in Japan with Team Mugen and joined Renault for a brief cameo in Formula E. Toro Rosso eventually threw Daniil Kvyat onto the scrapheap and, with the Malaysian Grand Prix on the horizon, Gasly was finally given the call.

His bedding-in period in Formula 1 was disrupted by a trip back to Japan to compete in the Super Formula finale (where he had a chance of becoming champion) but bad weather meant both races were cancelled and he could have competed in the United States Grand Prix after all.

Even though Kvyat delivered a points finish on his fleeting return in Austin, Gasly was given the seat back and has made a promising start to his Formula 1 career.

He still awaits his first World Championship point, but he has adjusted quickly to Formula 1 and showed good consistency in the process.

Brendon Hartley

Qualifying battle v team-mate: 1-1
Race battle v team-mate: 1-2
Best finish: 13th (USA)

With Carlos Sainz departing for Renault and Pierre Gasly away in Japan, an opportunity to race in Formula 1 at the United States Grand Prix finally came to Brendon Hartley seven years after being dropped from Red Bull’s young driver programme.

The New Zealander went away, honed his craft, and forged a strong relationship with Porsche where he became a two-time World Endurance champion and a Le Mans winner.

Those credentials and a quick call to Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko put him back on the Formula 1 radar, but he has endured a frustrating start to his career due to the late-season unreliability of the Renault engine.

After finishing 14th in Austin, back-to-back retirements have followed in Mexico and Brazil; but, by this point, he had already been told he was being kept on for the 2018 season.

Hartley has not been able to really showcase his talent in Formula 1 just yet, but there is absolutely no doubting his commitment and dedication to racing.

In the space of just two months, Hartley competed in the following events: Petit Le Mans, 6 Hours of Fiji, US Grand Prix, Mexico Grand Prix, 6 Hours of Shanghai, Brazilian Grand Prix, 6 Hours of Bahrain and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

However, the jury is still out on whether Toro Rosso were right to make their sudden in-season driver changes and it will be very intriguing to see if the Honda engines will allow Hartley and Gasly the chance to shine and justify their selections.

Mark Scott

Honda expect ‘more equal’ partnership with STR

Date published: December 4 2017

Entering a new partnership with Toro Ross, Honda’s F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa believes it will yield a more “equal partnership” than what they experienced with McLaren.

After three trying season together, Honda bid farewell to McLaren at the end season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Instead the Japanese manufacturer will power Toro Rosso in 2018 with Hasegawa expecting a more “equal” working relationship.

“We’ve been the ones making the majority of requests [of Toro Rosso] so far,” he said in an interview on Honda’s website.

“But it’s fair to say this will be a more equal partnership than it was with McLaren in terms of leadership. And that’s not just because of the size of the team.

“Obviously Honda as a company is huge but we had little recent F1 experience – so from that point of view McLaren was still leading us.

“That won’t be the same with Toro Rosso.”

Hasegawa, however, acknowledges that changing teams is not without its own issues as Honda’s engine now has to fit into a different chassis.

He added: “We are working quickly to swap teams. We have to prepare things before February so it will be a very busy winter.

“The installation is the biggest job for us, to get the engine to fit to the chassis.

“We need to make many modifications, which is a big job, especially in this limited amount of time. Honda and Toro Rosso – from both sides – are doing a very good job.

“Development is ongoing on the power unit. It will remain the same power unit concept from this year, so we are able to use the current one as the starting point.

“We only know things as the McLaren-Honda way, but this will be another opportunity to expand our understanding and experience of a different way of working.”

And while some may believe partnership Toro Rosso takes the pressure off Honda, who have yet to get it right upon their return, Hasegawa says that is simply not the case.

“People tell me we’ll have much less pressure at Toro Rosso but I don’t think that’s true,” he explained.

“In my mind, we simply need to prepare the best engine and nothing is going to slow that down.”

Red Bull ‘working hard with Honda’

Date published: December 1 2017

Red Bull are working with Honda to make them a “competitive package” with Toro Rosso; that’s according to Helmut Marko.

Next season Toro Rosso will be powered by Honda as they take on McLaren’s former engine partner while the Woking team will instead run Renault engines.

It is, at least according to Fernando Alonso, set to be a difficult season for Toro Rosso as Honda have yet to get it right.

The Japanese manufacturer was off the pace in 2017 with their efforts to improve not helped by their numerous reliability woes.

Red Bull, though, are determined to assist Toro Rosso’s new engine partner in any way that they can.

“Right now, we’re working hard with Honda to make this a competitive package with Toro Rosso,” Marko told F1i.com

“We are very pleased with the progress Honda is making and will continue to make until the start of the season.”

As for whether Honda’s link up with Toro Rosso will open doors for Red Bull in terms of a possible new engine partner down the line, Marko added: “We’ll take a look and only then can I say in the middle of next year what we’re going to do.”