Vergne ‘laughed’ at Hartley’s recall to Formula 1

Former Toro Rosso driver Jean-Éric Vergne says that he laughed when he heard that Red Bull had opted to call up Brendon Hartley for a Grand Prix outing with junior squad Toro Rosso.

The New Zealander had been part of the Red Bull driver development programme until 2010. He was then dropped by Dr Helmut Marko and switched to endurance racing. He was part of the Porsche team that won the 2017 Le Mans race.

“It makes me laugh that Red Bull called on Hartley,” Vergne said “Given that he’s the one they fired to give me his seat in World Series by Renault.

“I find this rather amusing!”

Vergne himself raced for Toro Rosso from 2012 to 2014 alongside Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat. He made a successful start, finishing in the top ten on his début.

“I finished eighth in my first race and there was a huge celebration in the team,” he told Motorsport.tv. “They were super-happy.”

But Vergne himself hadn’t been nearly as satisfied with that at the time.

“I said ‘Hey, that was only eighth place. That’s not what I want!'”, he recalled. “If I went back now, that’s definitely something I’d change.

“I’d be happy with eighth place – that was the strength of Daniel Ricciardo,” he admitted. “He was always happy, regardless of what happened. That I think was my biggest weakness.”

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Vergne subsequently lost his Toro Rosso seat to Max Verstappen. He says he didn’t take it well.

“Looking back, I could have handled things differently,” he admitted. “I went through a hard 12 months, looking at how I could turn things around.

“I changed a lot of things in the way I approach the sport,” he said, adding: “I was able to learn from everything that happened.

“Today I don’t believe that I can be hurt in Formula E the way I was hurt in F1,” he said. “Outside the car I can now see everything with a different eye. As a global driver that’s much better.

The 27-year-old Frenchman subsequently spent two years as a Formula 1 test driver for Ferrari. More recently, he has been competing in the ABB FIA Formula E championship with Techeetah.

Vergne currently leads the driver standings after six of 12 rounds. He was speaking this week at a press conference promoting next month’s Paris ePrix. One of his main rivals in the series is another former Toro Rosso driver, Sebastian Buemi.

He said that if Buemi had been given Hartley’s opportunity to return to Formula 1, he would “probably get fired after one year.”

Vergne added that in that case, Buemi would be left “with no options in top teams, as the car is not good enough”.

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It’s why Vergne has no regrets about staying in Formula E, which he says has changed his motor racing career for the better.

“I was lucky to join Formula E at the right time,” he said. “I quickly changed my mentality and my state of mind.

“Today, I think it’s the best thing that can happen to me.

“Joining Formula E was the most difficult time of my career, when leaving F1,” he added. “But with hindsight, I think it was the turning point of my career.

“In any difficult or negative situation, there are positives to draw. You just need to extract them.”

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