Bob McMurray: Hartley warrants a mention
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It seems as though the Formula 1 season has been going on for a long time this year.
But it is probably just my imagination, because the 2017 season is one week and one race (due to the German event being dropped) shorter than in 2016.
This weekend sees the final rush of three races in the Americas before the 2017 finale in Abu Dhabi. And, whatever reference anybody in New Zealand makes to the United States Grand Prix happening at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, it will be with Toro Rosso Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley in mind.
Frankly, that statement makes me smile and I wish Hartley the best of fortune this weekend. It will be perhaps the most exciting of his life.
It is exciting, too, for his family and those in New Zealand who have seen, helped, mentored and supported Hartley.
And there are many, as he clawed his way through this toughest of sports to the top of his personal sporting career mountain.
More words have been written about him this past week or so than almost any other single sportsman, so I need not add more, but like many others, I will be glued to the TV as the Grand Prix weekend plays out.
Hartley’s presence on the grid adds a considerable amount to a season that promised so much but seems to have already lapsed into a certain conclusion.
Brendon Hartley (left) will be driving at the Circuit of the Americas. Photo / Getty Images
Despite the wonderful efforts of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo bringing a welcome breath of fresh air, it was the anticipated battle between the red and silver cars that held the season’s focus.
Unfortunately the disastrous performances by Ferrari, drivers and team alike, have virtually wiped it from the horizon of contenders for the drivers’ title.
It is still possible mathematically but highly unlikely, and the spectre of one horse winning the race to the title is close to certain.
Up to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, distilled down to Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, was close and exciting.
At Monza, the Ferrari seemed strangely off the pace and Hamilton took the championship points lead with a decisive victory, only for the Scuderia to come back a little at the next race in Belgium.
Since Monza, Ferrari has struggled to be consistent, with Hamilton scoring 73 points more than Vettel.
Vettel can shoulder a good deal of the responsibility for the Ferrari failures of late.
Road rage in Baku, Azerbaijan, then causing the start line demolition of not only himself but his innocent teammate Kimi Raikkonen and even more innocent Red Bull driver Verstappen in Singapore, destroyed any possibility of at least one race win, maybe even two.
Not content with shooting itself in the foot in Singapore, the team loaded the gun again, took careful aim, and shot itself in the other foot at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Mechanical reliability issues have crept back into the lexicon of the team, evoking memories of the confused and shambolic Ferrari of past years.
The simplest of things, a spark plug — albeit an expensive spark plug at almost NZ$100 — caused Vettel’s retirement in Japan and his and Raikkonen’s cars have been recent victims of an apparent turbocharger issue, too. Although, characteristically the team are publicly light on the detail.
The Ferrari team must get back on track this USGP weekend.
In 2016, Mercedes dominated the USGP with Hamilton leading the way. If he can manage to reprise that this weekend, Vettel will have to finish fifth or better to keep the chase for the title alive.
For me, for once, the battle at the front will be almost a sideshow as my focus will be on Toro Rosso and Hartley with the fervent hope Hartley’s team mate, Daniil Kvyat will not live up to his nickname of “Torpedo” and have Hartley in his sights.
That and the hope that the USGP 2017 will not be the only F1GP featuring “Kiwi Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley”.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?