F1 team Toro Rosso's driver carussel keeps on turning. Seeking a reliable second driver, they've turned to a young talent of yesteryear who never got an F1 break, New Zealand's Brendon Hartley.
For the first time since the 1980s, a driver from New Zealand will be on the F1 grid, at next Sunday's US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
Toro Rosso have turned to the 27-year-old, long a member of the Red Bull drivers' program, to take up the seat held by Russian Daniil Kvyat for most of the season, and by French youngster Pierre Gasly in the last two races. Gasly has clashing commitments in Japan but is expected to return for the remaining races.
Hartley has been on the fringes of F1 for years, testing a Toro Rosso as early as 2009. But after chance after chance passed him by, he had sought out full time work as an endurance racer with Porsche. Along with German Le Mans specialist Timo Bernhard and fellow New Zealander Earl Bamber, Hartley won the jewel in this year's endurance racing crown. He also won the 2015 LMP 1 endurance championship.
Hartley was part of this year's Le Mans winning effort, prior to that he drove with Aussie Mark Webber for several seasons
He made no bones about his surprise at such a late call-up to the Red Bull F1 family.
"This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1," Hartley said.
Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost pointed out that Hartley had longstanding Red Bull roots, and also hinted that the team — which tends to try to provide young talents with a springboard towards the Red Bull team — was eyeing a more experience pair of hands for Austin.
"With all the racing experience accumulated over the years, we are convinced that he will do a fantastic job for us," Tost said.
The last driver from New Zealand to start an F1 race was Mike Thackwell, back in 1984. But the country had a huge impact on F1's formative years. World champion Bruce McLaren founded and gave his name to a team that's still on the grid today, while Denny Hulme won the 1967 championship driving for Brabham.