A left field decision for Toro Rosso in 2018

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

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    Red Bull would be wise to link Toro Rosso with Honda. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool)

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    Toro Rosso’s game of in-season musical chairs has seen yet another revised line-up confirmed for the upcoming United States Grand Prix, being completely different to the pairing seen in Japan a fortnight ago.

    Daniil Kvyat has been reinstated at the Red Bull junior squad, following his demotion in favour of French speedster Pierre Gasly. With the departure of Carlos Sainz to Renault and Gasly set to contend for the Super Formula title in Japan, Red Bull have had no choice to revive one of its former drivers.

    27-year-old Brendon Hartley, whom tested with Toro Rosso in 2009, at last will fulfil his dream of being on the Formula One grid, with the Kiwi Sportscar ace drafted in to take Gasly seat for the race in Austin.

    “This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach Formula One. I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined,” said the Kiwi.

    “I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull for making this a reality, and to Porsche for allowing me to do this alongside the World Endurance Championship. COTA is a track I really enjoy and one I have raced at recently. I’m trying not to put too many expectations on my Formula One debut, but I feel ready for it.”

    Becoming the first New Zealander to contest a grand prix since Mike Thackwell in 1984, Hartley’s maiden Formula One outing will be a cherry on what has been an outstanding year for the former Red Bull junior.

    Having already been World Endurance Champion in 2015 alongside fellow Red Bull driver Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard, the shaggy haired, blue eyed Hartley is only two races away from sealing another title for Porsche.

    An outright victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier in the year, saw Porsche
    collect their 19th and ostensibly last win, in the hands of Hartley, Bernhard and compatriot Earl Bamber who replaced Webber upon the Aussie’s retirement.

    Achieving the pinnacle of sportscar racing across a four-year span, in tandem with Porsche’s own programme in the LMP1-Hybrid category, Formula One stands as unfinished business for the young Hartley.

    Hartley, along with the five other drivers that comprise the Porsche LMP1 squad are all set to become refugees in 2018, with the Weissach marque pulling the pin on its Endurance programme in favour of Formula E in the years to come.

    While some of the drivers, including the likes of former one-time Caterham F1 driver André Lotterer have already secured their futures in other categories – Hartley is yet to lock in his plans for 2018.

    The notion of crossing the Atlantic and contesting IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing has been floated, though it is no secret that Toro Rosso are yet to officially confirm their line-up for 2018, with the future of Kvyat very much a question mark.

    With the 23-year-old Russian’s form in 2017 having been less than desirable, having scored points in only two of the fourteen events that he has started, it would ostensibly be no big loss if he were to find himself on the outer at Red Bull as Hartley did not so long ago.

    The great irony would be that, Toro Rosso and by extension Red Bull, have reached a point in their existence that they are unable to mass produce young drivers as they previously used to and even as a one-off, have had to call up someone who previously couldn’t cut the mustard.

    There was a time where Red Bull and the malevolent Helmut Marko had prematurely ended the Formula One careers of the likes of Sébastien Buemi, who has now achieved titles in the World Endurance Champion and Formula E, and the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne and António Félix da Costa whom were going nowhere in Marko’s eye.

    Behind Toro Rosso’s latest youngster in Gasly, there are barely any drivers on the radar in the near future.

    Though with the future of Red Bull’s presence in Formula One itself up in the air, there is no reason why Toro Rosso can’t field the likes of Hartley for a single season. It would be a win-win for both parties, with the former benefitting from a world class driver and the latter fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

    It all rides on the result then from Austin, whether in a car that is capable of scoring regular points, can the Le Mans victor and World Endurance Champion show his prowess.