23 March 2018

The Australian Grand Prix weekend marks the start of a new chapter for Honda in Formula 1. The opening race of the Toro Rosso partnership brings with it excitement as racing resumes and the first true benchmarks for the 2018 season are set down.

While Melbourne will be a first race for the partnership, that is just one of many firsts this weekend. Two of the more notable firsts belong to the drivers, with Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley both embarking on their first full seasons as F1 drivers.

For Brendon, it’s an even busier weekend. Born across the Tasman Sea in Palmerston North on New Zealand’s South Island, at present Melbourne is the closest thing to a home race that the Kiwi has on the F1 calendar.

“First of all I’m really excited about the first race of the year, and it being in Melbourne is the closest that I’ve raced to home in a long, long time.”

“It’s definitely not a home race, Australia is definitely not the same as New Zealand! But every second or third person I chatted to over the summer - or the European winter - said they were coming to the race.

“So I’m fully expecting to see a few New Zealand flags in the stands. I’d say there will be a few more Australian flags but I’m fully expecting to see a few here and there are a few friends and family members that I know are coming. So that will be pretty special for me, to be honest.”


The family mention is a poignant one, as racing has been in Hartley’s blood since he was born, with his father having already competed on the Albert Park circuit.

“My father raced anything and everything with four wheels, from dirt track racing to racing the last Adelaide Grand Prix and the first Melbourne Grand Prix in a Formula Holden car. I think he raced against Mark Webber which I always found quite funny!

“So I grew up with my earliest memories being at the race track watching my father. Also my brother is four years older than me so he started racing go-karts before me, so I was also growing up at the race track watching my brother. So I started racing at six years old and from that moment that was all I ever wanted to do.

“From the age of six, seven, eight I always told everyone that I would be a Formula 1 driver! Looking back it was completely unrealistic and a stupid thing to think I had a chance to do that coming from a very modest family in New Zealand but somehow it worked out!


“That came after many timely situations, being picked up by Red Bull from racing in New Zealand, then leaving friends, school, family and traveling to Europe at 15 years old. Going through ups and downs, finding endurance racing, winning the Le Mans 24 Hour and a couple of world championships and finally getting another chance at Formula 1 at 28.

“If you asked me a couple of years ago I probably didn’t expect to be back in the Formula 1 paddock but the dream was always in the back of my mind.”

Hartley’s journey to becoming a grand prix driver has been an unorthodox one, with early success and Red Bull backing giving him a shot at the F1 grid at a much younger age. He ultimately missed out on a seat and was dropped from the young driver program back in 2010, but the New Zealander was not willing to allow that to be a terminal blow to his ambitions.

“I think it was in 2009 when I was a reserve driver and Jaime Alguersuari got the Formula 1 race seat instead of me. That was the biggest kick in the guts and was the start of an even bigger downward spiral for me when I realised I missed out and how close I really was to really being in a Formula 1 car.

“At the time I didn’t have a good few races. I wasn’t mentally as prepared as I should have been at that very moment and the dream slipped away. I think when I lost the chance was when I realised how close I really was.


"I’ve worked very hard since then and I’ve improved myself as a driver and I’m very happy that I went through some diversity and some tough times."

It’s an outlook on racing that Hartley shares with Honda, as the challenging return to Formula 1 thus far has not diminished the motivation from Japan to improve and succeed. Dyno testing and factory development might not be as glamorous as Le Mans victories and World Endurance Championship titles, but both are examples of hard work that has gone before, away from the F1 paddock.

As the Toro Rosso partnership marks a new era for those at Sakura and Milton Keynes, Hartley sees past experiences as vital for future progress.


“You need failure to have success. People probably wrote me off when I missed out when I was younger, but I think that will be the same story for many other individuals, teams and companies. It’s normal that you have some failure and I think learning from the failure and turning that into a positive can be your biggest strength. Certainly that was the case for me, I learned a lot about myself and I feel a lot stronger because of that.”

Taking on board the lessons of the past three years in pursuit of an eventual return to the front in F1, Honda enjoyed a positive start to life with Toro Rosso during pre-season testing. Much like his own success in bouncing back from adversity to achieve his dream of racing in F1, Hartley has hopes of a bright future for the partnership.

“I’m very aware of Honda’s previous successes, and I’ve caught up on a bit more of the history now, too. Some of its past achievements are iconic, even if I’m too young to have been aware of them all as they happened!


“It’s been an extremely positive start, even from a month and a half ago when I made my first trip of the year to the factory and had all of the first meetings. There was a real quiet confidence in everyone and a real positivity about this new partnership with Honda. It’s a massive opportunity for Toro Rosso to be solely supplied by an engine manufacturer and to have that resource and full focus from Honda.

“The working relationship has been very positive from both sides. We’re working very closely together, both making compromises where there needs to be compromises, and I see real drive and determination from both sides to maybe surprise a few people…”