Now a fully-fledged Toro Rosso driver for 2018, Brendon Hartley gets to show us all what he can achieve over a full season, rather than jumping in at short notice for a few races like he did last year.
Badger’s Sarah Merritt got the chance to sit down at testing in Barcelona and have a chat with him about that, as well as his winter break back home in New Zealand, his very patriotic helmet design, and find out what a thoroughly nice chap he is!
Sarah Merritt: So Brendon, tell us a little about your winter break – you got married?
Brendon Hartley: I did, yes, but first of all it wasn’t winter, it was summer for me!
SM: Good point.
BH: I went home to New Zealand just before Christmas, so I had a pretty quiet Christmas with friends and family. I needed some time, a little bit of time off and not talking about racing. I had a really busy end-of-the-season.
At the time, I got through it on adrenaline and Red Bull, but I think it wasn’t until I got home that realised I was really drained, especially that last race in Abu Dhabi. I probably think people can respect all the things that went on behind the scenes to make this happen – quite a few very short nights in between eight races in a row all over the world, so I needed some time to relax a bit.
For me, that was chill days at home, seeing my friends and family, getting out on my mountain bike, nothing crazy but just going out riding, also with Sarah, my now wife. Then training right up to the start of January.
I had a trip down to the South Island in New Zealand and took a helicopter trip to the top of the glacier, something I’d never done and as a Kiwi, it’s quite sad. A lot of Kiwis don’t get to see everything there is to offer, but I had a lot of friends in New Zealand for two weeks travelling that had never been there before because they were coming for our wedding.
It was quite a social two weeks in the lead up to the wedding, and after, but from what Sarah’s told me it was everything she’d hoped for and I had a really nice time. We were on a small island, it was just 65-odd people, everyone was there for a few days and yeah, it was social, but I kept pretty fresh.
Since then, I’ve come back to Europe, so I was at home for one month, and my main priority was just training, to be honest. I’m getting ready for the season because these modern Formula One cars are extremely physical to drive, I can assure you of that.
Some drivers will try to shrug it off and say they haven’t broken a sweat, but I can assure they’re tough to drive. My main focus was just getting fit, so eating, sleeping, refuelling and trying not to speak to the engineers, just trying not to think about racing, to be honest.
It gets very busy and we’re only thinking about racing so I really took the time to not get too consumed by anything to do with racing and just focusing on fitness, and now we have our Barcelona testing, so it’s all starting again.
SM: Now it’s all kicking off again with the new season. At what point did you know that you’d be driving this year? Was it before the end of last season?
BH: Yes, it definitely was. I can’t remember when it was announced. I’m going to go with “before the media knew”. It was before the last race it was already announced, and I obviously knew a little bit before that. I didn’t read it in the news, but I can’t actually recall the exact moment, but I knew going into the last race.
SM: I can see you’ve done a lot of laps as a team during testing so far with the new Honda engine and things are feeling quite positive – things are going well for you in general?
BH: Yes, really positive. You know, it’s funny – a lot of people wrote us off. I try not to read too much of the media anyway, but a lot of people wrote us off as a team and the partnership with Honda. I didn’t put any thought into that over the in the winter.
Of course, I remained positive and optimistic, otherwise, I would have lost my sanity, but when we had the first meetings six weeks ago when I went to Faenza, I really felt everyone was very positive. Quietly optimistic, you know, and they didn’t want to say too much but everyone felt really good coming here.
Everyone sees it as an opportunity, including me, and it’s going really well. The reliability has been great since day one, we’ve been improving the car every day. It’s normal when you put a brand new car on track with I don’t know how many thousands of technical components to obviously do a lot of optimising, which would be the same for all the teams.
We really think that we’re in the fight and the Honda’s been performing well and it’s a really tough fight for those last points. Obviously, we can talk about the three top teams that will be fighting for the race win but after that for the last points, it’s really tight.
It’s going to be a battle but I think we’re in the fight somewhere. The goal for Melbourne has to be points.
SM: Thoughts on the Halo; now that you have actually driven the car with it? I read that Pierre [Gasly] had torn his race suit getting in and out of the car.
BH: That’s just because his race suit is too tight. It’s like a catsuit, you know? I think that it actually got caught on the seat.
SM: What’s the visibility like, are you comfortable with it?
BH: For us sitting in the car, we don’t notice it’s there. We’re obviously looking through it and looking ahead, and we’re not looking up at it, so it’s genuinely invisible for us in the car, which is a good thing because it’s a little bit ugly to look at! It’s better we don’t see it.
I’m not going to lie; from the outside, it’s something we’re going to get used to, but I don’t think it fits perfectly with the modern Formula One car. I’m sure that’s going to develop over the next few years and we all know why it’s there. It’s to protect our heads, so I am definitely not against that.
Getting in and out of the car is trickier. There’s no hiding that fact, that it’s a bit tricky to get in and out of the car, but while we’re actually driving, it’s completely invisible.
SM: How do you relax when you’re away from F1? And when you’re allowed to eat something a bit bad, what would you go for?
BH: Relaxing-wise, the biggest thing for me is riding my bike. It’s a fairly new hobby, probably only the last five or six years that I was mountain biking and now I’m very into road cycling as well. That’s kind of my escape. I can sit on my bike four or five hours and not think about much other than riding my bike and watching the scenery go by, and that’s important to me. It’s something I also enjoy with my wife, Sarah. She comes with me and she’s a great cyclist too.
And guilty pleasures in food? I don’t really have any guilty pleasures because I have a good relationship with food and I eat a lot! I really enjoy my food. I love burgers so that’s maybe one – I love a burger. The thing is, I love most food and I have a lot of balance in my diet so I have a little bit of everything. I enjoy eating well and healthy but I enjoy having some balance, so there’s nothing I really shy away from. I mean, I’m not saying I going to have a sitting of just cake, but I’m not shy to have a piece of cake as well!
But I also do quite a lot of miles on the bike, so I burn a bit too. There’s not a lot of fat on the body at the moment!
SM: Talking about New Zealand, as I just alluded earlier, so I’m a McLaren fan at heart…
BH: Big Kiwi history there.
SM: Yes. Thinking about Bruce McLaren and the heritage there, and I know you’re happy at Toro Rosso at the moment, but is that something you’ve ever thought about? That maybe at one point in your career you like to be linked to McLaren, because of that history?
BH: I hadn’t thought about it, and it’s simply because Red Bull gave me the opportunity. They are the reason that I ended up coming to Europe. I never had family funding to even dream of racing, not even a race in Europe, it just was not on the cards.
I had great supporters in New Zealand to start racing and we would try to figure out how we would go to America, and always trying to raise money. The Red Bull opportunity; they’re the ones who gave me the chance. I moved away from friends and family at 16. Since then, Red Bull’s always been the biggest part of my career. Right now, I’m very happy to be at Toro Rosso.
I’m very proud to be a Kiwi in the motorsport world, now flying the flag in F1, and also just to be one of many. I’m the first Kiwi in Formula One since 1 1984 when there was Mike Thackwell, but over all the top international motorsport categories, there are so many Kiwi’s flying the flag and I’m really proud to be one of them.
Like most Kiwi’s who travel away, they’re popular when they come back and it was a great reaction back home when it was announced last year, and I’m expecting to see a few Kiwi flags in Melbourne, which will be awesome.
SM: Let’s talk about your very patriotic helmet design. I saw you did a video, and I believe you are the only Red Bull driver to feature green on your helmet? This makes it great visually to see it is you through the Halo.
BH: I think so, yes. I snuck that in somehow! I’ve had green on the helmet for the last 10 years. The design hasn’t changed too much. Obviously, it always had to change a little bit depending on what I’m driving and what the sponsors are.
The top itself, I’ve had that for the last three years. Behind there, you can see the Tui feathers. They’re a pretty common bird in New Zealand, especially where I’m from. They make an awesome sound when they’re flying and they’re very acrobatic. There was a lot in my local area.
On the top, I also have a map of New Zealand. I should have an “I’m from there” marker! There is actually normally is an island on the bottom. It’s called Stewart Island. I just replaced that for a shamrock. Hopefully no one on Stewart Island gets upset with that!
SM: What’s the shamrock for. Have you got family links?
BH: No, it happened when I was in LMP2. I was racing in an Irish team and it was a bit of a good luck thing. If I didn’t tell you, as a Kiwi, they’d just think it was Stewart Island.
On the side, I’ve obviously got the New Zealand flag. You can see the Union Jack in the background with the three red stars of the Kiwi flag. I tried to keep it really simple and not change it too much from the previous years, to be honest.
We’re allowed to change the helmet design once during the year. I’ve just been chatting to my helmet painter, who’s from New Zealand actually. The Bell helmet gets sent all the way to New Zealand to be painted.
His name is Tyler. He’s about my age, and super passionate about painting helmets. He’s been painting my helmets, I guess, for four or five years now, but funnily enough, he paints a lot of other drivers’ helmets in Europe now, so they all send them to him.
It’s really cool now, I’ve been able to help promote him and he’s getting a bit of business and he’s really passionate, and does a great job.
So there you have it! During our chat when I mentioned fan engagement, Brendon said that he believed that “without the fans, the sport doesn’t exist”, so we know he’ll be keeping us up to date via social media during the season!
Give him a follow on Twitter, and whilst we are at it, have you seen the “Behind the Minds” series of videos that Toro Rosso socialised over the winter tests? They are well worth a watch.