I have to admit, when I heard the news over the weekend that Brendon Hartley is once again being axed by Red Bull I got a little sad. Hartley isn't much of a personality in Formula 1, but when he's on? He has a fantastic sort of New Zealandish back story to tell. That and isn't it fantastic that we have more and more international drivers in the competition? Unfortunately Hartley's results didn't agree with Toro Rosso and when it came down to it? Second last just wasn't good enough. It does make me think though, has poor Hartley become a martyr for the Red Bull machine in general.
The Balance Between Success and Excess.
It feels like Toro Rosso didn't have a choice but to succeed this year. I mean the older brother, Red Bull Racing, had announced quite early in the season that it was adopting Toro Rosso's Honda power unit. It feels like since then the only thing Red Bull's Public Relations department has been talking about is how good Honda is, and how good their Japanese relations are. At some point along the way, for me at least, it all got very boring. Red Bull Racing felt like that friend who's made this outlandish claim without any evidence but continues to try and convince you the claim true.
Because of that though, and for the first time in a long time, Toro Rosso had to be a successful team this year. And there's a massive gaping problem with that statement: it wasn't. In fact Toro Rosso came third last in the constructors standing this year with even Pierre Gasly coming in at 15th in the drivers standings.
For Toro Rosso, it got much worse as well. Daniel Ricciardo pulled the trigger on that now infamous deal which sees him move to Renault Sport at the start of the 2019 season. Based on Red Bull Racing and Helmut Marko's history with the driver development program that would mean Toro Rosso would have to nominate one of their drivers to compete for Red Bull Racing in the 2019 season.
This brings me back to our poor old kiwi. Any other year and even slightly better timing and Brendon Hartley would absolutely have been retained for another year in Formula 1. But Toro Rosso and Honda needed a scapegoat. Someone they could blame all of their issues on with the hope of starting a new in 2019. Because it wasn't the Honda power unit, oh no it can't be the Honda power unit. If it's the Honda power unit whatever will Red Bull Racing do next year? And then there's the case of Max Verstappen who has made it his mission to sh*t can the Renault power unit for the entirety of 2018. So much so that to not experience success with the Honda power unit would be blasphemy.
Look, very generally I understand the occasional need to discard morality for business. I don't do it myself but I can accept it. It's a disgusting business and if you have the chance to take the moral high ground you should definitely take it. But with the case of Toro Rosso and Brendon Hartley something feels particularly sour. Like really really rotten. It's one thing to cut a driver who, to be totally honest, isn't doing much worse than their team mate with an engine manufacturer who is still developing (after 4 years) their engine. But it's another to leave it right until the last race in 2018, leaving Brendon with zero chance of competing in Formula 1 during the 2019 season.
With how quickly it was announced and the pick for Toro Rosso's 2019 driver it almost feels like Helmut Marko was begging random's in the street to take a seat and race for the Italian team. I mean Daniil Kvyat, a man who once was considered one of the most dangerous and reckless drivers in Formula 1, a man who bought his way into the race, has been given a seat over Brendon Hartley. I mean Alexander Albon, along with his success, I can understand. But Daniil Kvyat? Really? This is the guy that came at Sebatian Vettel 3 times in a season and eventually prompted him to walk over to Christian Horner's seat at the pit wall and ask him politely to fire him.
Anyway, all of that aside I can't see Toro Rosso's results improving all that much during 2019. Now that Red Bull are co-clients of Honda, and far more demanding, it's quite obvious the Italian outfit will suffer as a result. Just feels like another case of everyone looses, especially the kiwi favourite himself.