Brendon Hartley: 'Im ready to step up'
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Kiwi driver Brendon Hartley is trying to temper his expectations after being confirmed to make his Formula 1 debut with the Toro Rosso team at next weekend's US Grand Prix in Austin.
The 27-year-old has been confirmed to replace Pierre Gasly for next weekend but an opportunity to take the seat permanently next year is on the cards should this one-off race goes well.
The country is buzzing about getting its first Formula 1 driver since Mike Thackwell in 1984 and not since Chris Amon in the mid-1970s has New Zealand had a regular driver in the sport's premier series.
"I am well aware [of the opportunity] but I am just trying to put that to the back of my mind," Hartley told Veitch on Sport. "I know that New Zealand gets behind their sports people and that is who we are and I am so grateful for that.
"I will do my very best and try not to think about what could be and what is at stake."
His elevation to Formula 1 came as a surprise to many people - for the World Endurance and Le Mans 24 Hour winner was no exception. Having been cut from the Red Bull junior development program in 2010 it appeared his chances of making it to Formula 1 were over.
Hartley made the move into sports car racing and joined the factory Porsche team, where he has gone on to enjoy a great deal of success.
"I didn't 100 per cent see this one coming," he said. "When Porsche announced they were stopping LMP1 [where he is currently racing] I started trying to figure out where I would be next year.
"One of the first calls I made was to Helmut Markot at Red Bull and I said if there was ever an opportunity I am ready now - I wasn't eight years ago. He got the message but I didn't hear anything for three or four months and to be honest this came out of the blue this last week.
"I am a little unprepared going into next weekend without ever testing the car but on the other hand I absolutely feel ready.
"I am 27 so I am now so I am not as young as some of the other guys that are entering Formula 1 but I have such a wealth of experience from being in a program at Porsche and having teammates like Mark Webber and Timo [Bernhard].
"I am as ready as I can be for an unexpected opportunity like this."
Hartley feels he is ready for his crack at Formula 1 now that he has matured a bit.
"It was a long time ago - 2010 was when I was cut from the Red Bull junior development program.
"I went through a tough time. To put it bluntly I just wasn't ready. I wasn't mature enough; at that point in my life I was enjoying my racing.
"For having gone through that I am a lot stronger."
Hartley has received a lot of support from New Zealand but one special message of support this morning carried significant importance.
"I am really proud that I can fly the flag. I had a text from Chris' [Amon] son James just saying how proud Chris would have been and that just means so much to me.
"I teared up a little. I knew Chris really well."