Tuesday, Jul 24 05:12pm
AUTHOR: Richard Gee

Column: Brendon Hartley has the right stuff

A new weekend and another Grand Prix. Hockenheim. Germany. A power track and a track that really does work the tyres hard. And a fresh challenge for Brendon Hartley, who could be forgiven for being somewhat jaded after recent race weekends.


Let's face it. It could hardly have gone worse for Brendon in recent Grands Prix.


Silverstone proved to be the lowest of the lows, with factors completely outside of his control conspiring to offer up virtually no running, a massive crash, and a lap one retirement from a pit garage start in the Grand Prix itself.


And yet, here was our boy, happy, relaxed and chomping at the bit ready for another crack against the best drivers in the world. That's quite something when you think about it.


It caught my attention and doubtless many others.


Silverstone was history. You had to be impressed with that and it's really starting to sink in now that Brendon is mentally very strong. Very strong indeed. As 'hard as nails' as one former GP driver suggested to me at the weekend, and one who himself had been through the mill time and time again during his career.


Yep. It's true. Whatever else happens this season, the Grand Prix edition of Brendon Hartley is as tough as old boots.


But that was only the start. He ran well all weekend, made no mistakes, had a reliable car and was presented with a Grand Prix that required him to dig deep into his considerable portfolio of skills. And it came together for him.


Germany was the best Grand Prix weekend of Brendon's short career and fingers crossed, is a turning point in his season.


Many times in the race I was on my feet cheering him on when we got brief glimpses of him on the coverage, and my eyes were constantly checking the gap times on the TV graphics. And that was where the real story was being told.


Speaking with Martin Brundle – Sky TV's very knowledgeable commentator and pundit – minutes before the start, Brendon pointed to tyre degradation as an area he felt he could exploit to his advantage in the race and this is exactly what he did.


On a track where tyre choice was even more important than usual, he preserved his Toro Rosso's boots as well as anyone out there and was gaining hand-over-fist on the cars in front on his second set of Pirellis.


On some laps, indeed, he was carving out tenths or even seconds on the likes of the McLarens, Saubers and Force India cars around him.


This was our endurance racing world champion and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner putting his considerable skills to work and for the detractors out there, that's one of the reasons why he has his seat in Formula One.


It was obvious he was in his element, and it was great to watch. Teams are the ones predominantly making the call on race strategies these days, not drivers, and there were definitely contrasting strategies at play for Brendon and his highly touted team mate Pierre Gasly in the Grand Prix.


But Brendon still made the call to wait a lap or two when the rain came to see if was going to stay, go, or affect the whole of the circuit. And that folks, was a bit of a masterstroke, whatever strategy he was running.


As a good number of cars came in for intermediates, Brendon stayed out, watching, waiting and racing. The rain abated or at least limited itself to that single part of the track. That wasn't enough for intermediates to cool down and they were literally melting within two or three laps, with the drivers using them losing seconds per lap at the same time.


It became obvious pretty quickly that the only option was for those runners to come in again for slicks. But even that brought its own risks. People were spinning and going off left, right and centre. Including Pierre Gasly.


A handful mastered the conditions. And Brendon Hartley was one of those.


What we saw last weekend at Hockenheim from Brendon was a very talented driver excelling in conditions where driver skill, experience and knowledge were all required to get a good result.


And even with all of those bases covered, it was still entirely possible to make a costly or even race ending mistake, just look at Sebastian Vettel's error on that part of the track that was affected by the intermittent rain. Not only did he lose the race, he also lost the championship lead and given that old mate Seb is a four time world champion, it really does indicate the track was exceptionally challenging.


The Vettel induced safety car was actually really bad luck for Brendon. Running on the cusp of the points, three cars ahead of him were running on intermediates and would have to pit.


Had there been no safety car, or had it come in even a lap earlier, it is highly likely Brendon would have continued and passed all three, probably getting as high as sixth or seventh. And given his form managing tyre wear, I reckon Toro Rosso would have left him out until the end too. Behind Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen and odd-ball condition ace Nico Hulkenberg.


That's what was on at one stage and in a car that, well let's face it, is not the quickest thing in the place.


As it was, the intermediate tyre runners were able to grab new slicks under the safety car, and dramatically reduce the chances of falling prey to Brendon. He took new tyres too, to maximise his own chances and it was great to see him in the thick of a battle royal for the lower and final points places.


Yes, you could argue that had Sainz not passed a car under yellows, Brendon's result would have been 11th, but by the same token, it could just have easily been seventh at the end. May be even sixth.


Let's not forget either, the incredible performance put in by Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. One or two notables have said since that given the conditions and the fact that he had to come from 14th on the grid with all of the pain that would involve in strategic terms, that last weekend's German Grand Prix may well in time be considered to be one of Hamilton’s greatest ever performances.


In a funny sort of way, I think that underlines just what an exceptional drive Brendon put in at the weekend.


As a driver racing hard in tricky conditions, making no mistakes whilst getting the most out of his car and using his combined skills to the best of his ability — be in no doubt Brendon Hartley was amongst the best out there at the Hockenheimring on Sunday.