Brendon Hartley feels ready for Formula 1 now than 10 years ago
Ten years ago, Brendon Hartley was on a threshold to make his Formula 1 debut, when he was signed as the Toro Rosso's reserve driver in the 2008 season.
However, even until 2013 after stints with both Toro Rosso/Red Bull and Mercedes as a reserve and simulator driver didn't get him a race seat, he moved on to endurance racing.
He eventually signed up to be Porsche LMP1 driver in the FIA World Endurance Series, which in itself became a big ask, since he was to drive for a factory outfit.
He claimed the drivers' title together with Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard in 2015, while he won the Le Mans 24 Hours earlier this year with Bernhard and Earl Bamber - and currently leads the championship with two races to go.
What looked like a closed chapter in F1, suddenly opened up amid different scenarios with Toro Rosso and Red Bull playing a gamble with its race seats.
A move from Carlos Sainz to Renault from US Grand Prix, while its new driver Pierre Gasly's Super Formula title bid, landed Hartley a surprise call-up for his F1 debut.
The 27-year-old was open about his chances, though, as he admitted that he wasn't ready for a F1 driver back then, but now, he is all charged up with the high-profile experience gained being a Porsche driver.
"I guess I wasn’t ready," he said. "I had some success in the early days, I won the Formula Renault championship, I became the reserve driver, had my first F1 test at 18-years-old and I guess I just didn’t deal with the pressure.
"I stopped enjoying it, I wasn’t happy; I was pretty young and away from home. When the Formula One dream, so to speak, stopped in 2010, I picked myself up, I found endurance racing and yeah, I have learned a lot from that experience.
"Being in the LMP1 programme, a high-profile category, where there is a lot of pressure, probably not that dissimilar to Formula One in some ways, in that respect, in development of the race car, and working with team-mates has been great.
"I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18-years-old. I like to think I’m ready now. [Although] I’m not very prepared for this weekend, I haven’t driven the car, I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well."
The Kiwi driver also revealed that it was Hartley who made the first move to call up Helmut Marko for any opportunity, when Porsche announced its departure from the WEC at the end of 2017 season.
"When it was announced that Porsche would stop endurance racing in LMP1 for next year, I called Helmut Marko and I said: ‘Look, I’m a different driver than I was 10 years ago, I’ve learned a lot, and if there is ever and opportunity I am ready."
"He didn’t say much, he just said he got the message, and three months later he made the call. This happened very quickly. I didn’t know about it much sooner than the press did. It’s been quite a whirlwind of a couple of weeks to arrive here.
"I’m pretty relaxed at the moment, all things considered. Really looking forward to getting out on track. Obviously I’ve had quite a bit of time to chat to the engineers, to go through some data, a little bit of time on the sim.
"But I’m looking forward to free practice one and see how comfortable I feel and working towards the race start on Sunday, which is a big moment for me, so yeah, really excited," he added.
Being part of a Red Bull outfit, it brings about a pressure in itself, but Hartley says there is no expectations set by Toro Rosso for him for the weekend. That he will be driving at the Circuit of Americas, where he has a good amount of experience, it bodes well for his F1 debut.
With no confirmation by Toro Rosso about the line-up beyond Austin, Hartley didn't add much to the speculations, stressing that his focus currently is the weekend ahead of him.
While it is expected for Gasly to return, but there is no certainty that Daniil Kvyat will keep his seat for Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi - thereby keeping Hartley in play if he does a good job in Austin.
UPDATE: Several journalists from Austin have reported of a grid drop for Hartley for an engine change, along with few other drivers - which could see him start from the back of the grid.