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With not even a full season of Formula One under his belt, rookie Brendon Hartley allegedly faces the axe as the Kiwi comes under the microscope ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Signed until the end of the season with Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso, rumours that the 28-year-old maybe discarded for a second time from the energy drinks giant started circling during the Spanish Grand Prix, with the highly credentialled Pascal Wehrlein reported to be the replacement.
Having contested nine races now in his short Formula One career, Hartley hasn’t had the rub of the green since his debut back in Austin at the conclusion of the 2017 season. Countless reliability problems with Renault power cruelled the Kiwi’s fortunes in the four races last year, while this season has only failed to finish a race once.
China saw a clash between Hartley and his Toro Rosso teammate in Pierre Gasly, resulting in the Kiwi’s retirement and barring a sole championship point in the incident-ridden Baku race – Hartley has been anonymous, in comparison to his French teammate.
However, given the rich pedigree which Hartley has established since his initial tenure as a Red Bull junior ended in 2010, it’d be a cruel outcome for dual-World Endurance Champion and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner to be relegated once again.
There is no denying that in terms of the future, Gasly is the driver in waiting for a berth at the world championship winning Red Bull Racing. Though it can be argued that Hartley’s role at the Faenza outfit is quite crucial, in terms of Red Bull’s architecture in the future.
Toro Rosso stand in the unique position this season of being a works team, backed by Japanese manufacturer in Honda, who found refuge with the Red Bull feeder squad after their acrimonious divorce with McLaren.
With less scrutiny to face than during their tenure with the illustrious McLaren team, Honda have made inroads this season in tandem with a more flexible Toro Rosso. The reliability has seen an improvement, which allows now for the manufacturer to work on pace – with the target of reaching Renault’s level by season’s end.
Red Bull have made it public recently, that they are closely assessing the progress of Honda, with their intention of taking onboard that works supply for the 2019 season. This makes all development made by both Toro Rosso and Honda quite crucial.
This is where Hartley comes into the picture, boasting four-year’s experience behind the wheel of a Le Mans Prototype car; one of the fastest race cars built by Porsche. Races upon which fuel and hybrid energy management were paramount, the Kiwi was a star in the WEC that experience is unique and valuable in the feedback he would be giving to his Toro Rosso and Honda engineers.
The results may not speak in Hartley’s favour and the anomalous fourth scored by Gasly at the Bahrain Grand Prix will for now dwarf the Porsche veteran’s record, but there is a place for Hartley at Toro Rosso for at least this season – as it will be of great benefit to the vision of the scrupulous and unforgiving Dr Helmut Marko and Red Bull Racing.