Brendon Hartley interview: 'I’m fighting on to stay here'

One year after he was scrambling for a racing future following Porsche’s decision to quit LMP1 at the end of 2017, Brendon Hartley once again finds himself fighting for his racing future.

After his shock entry to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso late last year, Hartley has shown plenty of potential, but the stars have not quite aligned for him to produce a string of decent points scores, only hitting the top 10 twice this season.

Brendon Hartley interview: 'I’m fighting on to stay here'

One year after he was scrambling for a racing future following Porsche’s decision to quit LMP1 at the end of 2017, Brendon Hartley once again finds himself fighting for his racing future.

After his shock entry to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso late last year, Hartley has shown plenty of potential, but the stars have not quite aligned for him to produce a string of decent points scores, only hitting the top 10 twice this season. sat down with Brendon in Singapore to review his (almost) year in F1, the surprises of the series, and what his future may hold…

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We’re pretty much at about a year of you in Formula 1 now, since the crazy period when you came into the series. How would you look back on your first year?

Brendon Hartley: Yeah it’s almost a year. There’s been a lot learnt over the course of the year. I definitely felt more and more comfortable in the environment, dealing with the extra pressures that go on in Formula 1. Obviously pressure is a state of mind. I’ve felt more and more comfortable with the environment of talking to press a lot more than I’m used to, maybe answering more difficult questions than I’ve been used to. Working with the team has been pretty straightforward and very similar approach to what I was used to in Porsche. But I guess there’s a bit of frustration over the course of the last six months with the results not coming, even when I have been performing and I have definitely got stronger all season, but the results just haven’t been there and not always in my control. There’s been a few races when I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I always reflect on that and ask myself what I could have done differently, if there was a part of it in my control. But at the same time, I’m still positive about the future and I’ve been through tough times before. I know that it just takes one strong result, and people very quickly forget. On top of that, I know that tough times are necessary for success. It’s part of it, and I’ve learned a lot over the course of the season. I think if I come out the other side, I will be a lot stronger for it.

Some of the tougher points through your career - being dropped from Red Bull’s junior programme, Porsche quitting LMP1 - how would they compare?

BH: Very different, and very different point of my career. Back then, all those years ago, I did struggle with the pressures and was still working things out for myself. I’m not in that position anymore. I’ve got better and better throughout the season, even if pressure has been applied from everyone. Like I said, the results just haven’t quite shown, but I’ve proved to myself that I can deal with it. I think qualifying in Montreal was a big statement. After all the press and chat about if I was going to be replaced at the next race or not, to outqualify my teammate by half a second was really proving to myself that I could deal with the pressure, change my approach a bit. Since then, I’ve got stronger and stronger, but the results just haven’t quite come. It’s often been extremely tight between myself and Pierre [Gasly], but he’s made a few results stick and it hasn’t quite worked out that way for me.

That change in approach made around Montreal, would you say that’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in F1 this season?

BH: Yeah, just a bit of a mental change as well in terms of being more focused on myself, even more so not looking at media, what’s been written, not to let that affect you. I’ve said that throughout my career, but in Formula 1, everything was taken to another level. Learning how to deal with that and just be a bit more, maybe a little bit more selfish with my own time and keeping my focus where it needed to be, on the important things and still being able to switch off for the downtime after a tough weekend and do all the things that I like and enjoy outside of racing. All those things have been important to get myself in a good space, and I felt like I’ve done that. As I said, the results haven’t quite reflected that, even if I have been strong.

Even if the results haven’t been there, coming into F1, do you think your stock as a racer has risen?

BH: I’d like to think so, but I guess that’s not for me to decide. I know there’s been a lot of things learnt in this tough Formula 1 environment. I know I already feel stronger because of it. From my point of view, I’ve continued to improve, and no matter what I go on to do in the future, if it’s outside of Formula 1, then I would be a stronger driver because of my time in Formula 1. Obviously my goal was to stay in Formula 1 for next season. I have the contract to be here, and I have a long-term contract with Red Bull. Obviously there’s always options and certain things to talk about. Just focused on doing a good job to secure my place in that paddock.

Brendon Hartley interview: 'I’m fighting on to stay here'

Are you thinking about options outside of F1 for the future?

BH: Honestly, no. I’m just focused on one race at a time at the moment. That’s the best way I know how to deal with a situation like this and get the best out of myself, it’s to not look too far ahead. That’s what I need to do.

Is that the approach you took on around Canada, taking it one race, one session at a time?

BH: Yeah. I tried to do that through my whole career, but I guess even more so this season when a lot of things are talked about and you’ve got constant reminders when you’re asked questions from people like yourself - not trying to say in a bad way! The best way I know to deal with it and get the best out of myself is to not look too far ahead. I don’t see anything good that comes from that from my own point of view.

And I guess your own entry into F1 last year proves that. There was talk of an IndyCar deal being signed, a Formula E test even - it shows how quickly things can change?

BH: It happened quick. I guess the last month shows the Formula 1 driver market can move pretty quick too when it needs to. A lot of the time, things are outside of the driver’s control, and all the driver can do is perform the best that he can inside the car.

Is it strange having the likes of Daniil Kvyat, Sebastien Buemi, these names from Red Bull’s past, coming back into the picture?

BH: I mean I don’t know if they’re in the picture or not, like I said, I’m just focused on myself. I guess the same question and same point was with me at the end of last year…

That is true.

BH: From that point of view, I guess people were thinking a lot of the same things about myself coming back into the world of Formula 1.

The global driver market is very different as well now, with DTM and LMP1 both in decline it seems. Is it harder to for drivers to find top-line seats outside of F1 than before in other series?

BH: I don’t know. I was obviously very happy in LMP1 before it all came to an end, and then I landed on my feet, becoming a full-time Formula 1 driver. I know drivers like myself, there’s not many of us around who have that kind of experience with very technical cars in high-pressure environments. I think that does help a lot. Drivers coming from lower formulas don’t have that kind of experience. I know from my point of view I’m a lot stronger in many areas than I was at 18. That doesn’t mean an 18-year-old can’t do it, Max [Verstappen] very much proved that. But from my point of view, I’m a lot better now and I have a lot more expertise and experience to deal with this environment and to get the best out of myself and the team than 10 years ago.

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What’s been the biggest surprise for you in Formula 1? The intensity of everything?

BH: I don’t think there’s been any huge surprises to be honest. I guess I was in the paddock 10 years ago as a reserve driver. I can’t think of something interesting to tell you in terms of one big surprise.

You spoke about media scrutiny etc., has that been so much of a step up from what you knew?

BH: I guess I knew that was going to happen, but it’s hard to prepare yourself for that. I know where I’ve come from, not that long ago living in New Zealand, very modestly. It still sometimes is weird for me arriving at a track, people waiting for my autograph before we arrive, waiting there when we leave, seeing the big queues of people coming in to watch a race that you’re a big part of - arguably smaller than some of the other drivers in the field. But still it’s a weird feeling knowing that millions of people are watching around the world and knowing that there’s a huge amount of support back home. I guess just learning how to deal with that has been a bit of a surprise. But I’ve tried to keep it simple. I know over the years, of course I’ve changed, but I think in a good way. I still have my same morals and values, and still know where I came from. Keep it pretty simple, all things considered.

Do you think that’s something that can be lost quite easily in F1, morals and values?

BH: Yeah. I need to be careful what I say there. I think it would be easy to get caught up in the environment. I’ve been lucky to have great support throughout my career, and with my wife now, we’ve been together since I was 15 years old, and great support back home from friends and family. I think that’s all been important for this journey for me. I very much hope it’s not over. I’m fighting for that. But like I said before, I’m proud of my story and how I got here, and I’m fighting on to stay here.

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