Though official confirmation is still awaited, it has been revealed that Formula 3 star Brendon Hartley is to get his Formula 1 break as third and reserve driver for both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso this year.

An announcement from the two teams is expected today, following the revelation by STR team principal Franz Tost that the New Zealand teenager has been given the nod. Other possible candidates for the role had included ex-Super Aguri refugee Takuma Sato [see separate story - click here], who was also in the running for the second race seat at the small Faenza-based outfit before ultimately being pipped to the drive by 2008 incumbent S?bastien Bourdais.

"We (STR and RBR) will share the third driver," Tost is quoted as having said by German news agency GMM. "It is Brendon Hartley, who is the driver from the Red Bull driver pool."

As the Austrian explained, Hartley has been a member of energy drinks company Red Bull's young driver scheme since 2006, and after triumphing in the Formula Renault Eurocup the following year at the age of only 17, last season finished third overall in his rookie campaign in British F3, with five victories to his name along the way and trailing only Carlin Motorsport team-mates Jaime Alguersuari and Oliver Turvey in the final standings.

Having clearly impressed team principal Trevor Carlin with both his pace and potential, the now 19-year-old has been retained by the squad and will graduate to the F3 Euroseries in 2009. He is understood to have also recently qualified for his F1 super-licence by dint of completing sufficient testing mileage for RBR over the winter period.

Hartley's manager Peter Johnston told Stuff NZ that he had spoken to his young charge on Tuesday night.

"At this stage it is Red Bull's intention to take Brendon forward and be a reserve driver," he conceded, "but this thing has prematurely got out. It's all subject to signing off his super-licence, and we're just waiting for that to happen.

"We've got to cross our t's and dot our i's. We should know a bit more tomorrow."

Should Palmerston North native Hartley eventually make his way onto the grand prix grid, he would become the first Kiwi to do so since Mike Thackwell all the way back in 1984. Illustrious drivers from the nation's F1 history include 1967 World Champion Denny Hulme, legendary McLaren founder Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, widely considered the unluckiest man never to win a race in the top flight.



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