Brendon Hartley got his long-awaited Formula 1 break this season when he was given the shock call to join Toro Rosso for the United States Grand Prix.
It was undoubtedly a dream come true for the 28-year-old Kiwi. But it was also a huge challenge. The first race alone saw his car hit by a 25 grid place penalty, consigning him to the back row.
More power unit penalties followed in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. It meant that he never got a fair chance to show what he could do in 2017. But Hartley insists that he’s happy for the opportunity to be ‘toughened up’.
“The learning process was steep and very important,” he told the FIA Prize Giving Gala in Paris last week. “It was tough. I’m not going to lie, especially with eight weekends on the trot.
“That was a good experience for me,” he continued. “To learn what that takes out of you, what areas you need to improve.
“That was the perfect introduction into Formula 1 in terms of preparing a season. Having some real racing experience to start next year.
“I’m looking forward to having a bit of a break, recharging the batteries, and coming back strong next year,” he noted.
Hartley will be hoping for a spell without power unit penalties at the start of 2018. Toro Rosso will be working with Honda next year after severing existing ties with Renault.
“I’m hearing a lot of positive things out of Toro Rosso and out of Honda,” said Hartley. “I can’t wait to work alongside them next year, and hopefully prove my worth in Formula 1.”
It’s an opportunity he’s waited for seven years for. He was dropped from the Red Bull junior driver programme by Dr Helmet Marko in 2010 and made his name in sportscars instead, including winning this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours with Peugeot.
Hartley revealed that he’d contacted Marko in July to offer his services in a testing capacity.
“I made the call to Helmut Marko which was more or less before the Hungarian Grand Prix,” he said. “I knew there was maybe some opportunity to do a test, simulator driver, all those things that was maybe to prove myself again.
“At the time I didn’t believe I was going to be making my Formula One debut this year or even next year!
“I never believed they would put me into straight into a grand prix without testing or having that confidence in me to do that,” Hartley added.
“Massive kudos and respect to Helmut and everyone else involved, to take that risk and put the trust in me that I could do the job.”
Gallery: The beautiful wives and girlfriends of F1 drivers
Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter