Hartley to Ferrari? Kiwi F1 ace linked to role with iconic team
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It was with dejection but perhaps minimal surprise that the news broke late last year that Brendon Hartley would no longer be part of Toro Rosso's Formula 1 driver line-up for 2019. It wasn't surprising because it had been rumoured for quite some time, but it was a downer nonetheless for Kiwi motorsport fans — especially given Hartley's sharp improvement in performance at the end of the season.
But, according to the Italian press, Hartley could still find himself as part of the Formula 1 circus. Although, admittedly, not as a full-time driver.
Italian media outlet Corriere dello Sport is among those to link to a potential simulator driver role with Scuderia Ferrari. Each team has simulator testing behind the scenes, where set-up testing and changes are implemented on an accurate simulator and tested by a professional driver, before being actioned in real life.
Hartley is no stranger to the world of simulator driving. Most notably, the 29-year-old was a highly rated sim development driver for Petronas Mercedes in 2012 and 2013 — his work contributing in part to the team's drought-breaking title in 2014 with Lewis Hamilton. Of course, four more world titles have come since, all of them at the expense of a certain bright red Italian team.
Ironically, the Kiwi could see himself replacing former Ferrari sim tester Daniil Kvyat — who will slot into Toro Rosso as a driver for the 2019 F1 season. Ferrari's other 2018 sim driver, Antonio Giovanazzi, is off to Sauber Alfa Romeo.
The speculation from Europe says that Hartley is one of two drivers in the frame for a simulator role at Ferrari — the other driver being fellow F1-refugee Sergey Sirotkin, who was axed from the struggling Williams team in similar circumstances at the end of last year.
It's worth noting that the Hartley name-dropping from Italy is thin, at best. There has yet to be any big, robust indication that he's on the cusp of a big announcement. But unfortunately, that's the cloud of question that's followed Hartley over the last 18 months or so, through none of his own doing.
Hartley is still contracted to Porsche as a factory driver, and has been tipped to be part of their 24 Hours of Le Mans assault and possibly their debut in the ABB FIA Formula E series alongside Neel Jani.
It's worth noting that the next Formula E season kicks off at the end of the year, giving a driver potentially enough time to spend a year simulator testing for an F1 team beforehand.
On one hand, a full-time driver role with Porsche will be a busy and fulfilling year (just consider how many categories and races Earl Bamber competed in last year, even without an LMP1 campaign). But, as Hartley and now Kvyat have shown, being a gun simulator driver can possibly spring-board someone back into the real-world driver's seat.