Thursday, Oct 4 07:16pm
AUTHOR: Richard Gee

Column: Take a walk Brendon, IndyCar is waiting

Like most fellow fans of motorsport in New Zealand I suspect, I've grown increasingly frustrated at watching Brendon Hartley's season unfold in Formula One. And I've come to the conclusion that whilst everyone is talking about whether or not he'll be there next season, perhaps it's time for Brendon to do some talking, and speak with his feet.


We were all prepared to cut him some slack early on as he found his feet in F1 and of course every race could have gone better. That's life and some of that, as I have been told on numerous occasions, is down to him. However, and it's a big however, in all the years I have followed F1 there have been only a few occasions - and even fewer in the contemporary era when the 'garagistas' have become extinct - when I have seen any driver suffer such a succession of alarming car failures that extend beyond engine, gearbox, hydraulics or electronic failure.


Toro Rosso's brake problems at the weekend put both drivers in harm's way and having been working fine throughout practice and qualifying, suddenly in the race they lasted only a handful of laps. Why? Well, drivers complained of a long pedal, but in essence that was because the brakes were overheating and that in turn was because for some reason best known to Toro Rosso, the calliper pistons - or one in particular on each car - were overheating. This led to the brakes seizing and the guys taking a spin into retirement in almost identical incidents. So similar, in fact, that even commentators got confused and thought one was a replay of the other.


It's not the first major failure on a Toro Rosso this season. Remember Silverstone? Well, our boy was pretty lucky to walk away from that one too but let's not go there and dig up old dirt. My point is that the team and driver programme supremo Dr Helmet Marko can go on all they like about what Brendon has to do to retain his seat in F1 with them, but I'm starting to see it slightly differently in the latter half of the season. Every other day some driver or other is announcing they are interested in the Toro Rosso seat alongside Daniil Kvyatt (perhaps 'Punchbag' would now be a more fitting nickname than 'Torpedo') and we are continually being told that there are up to 10 drivers in the frame for the seat. Tough as he is, goodness knows what that does for a driver confidence out of the car and during race weekends. And even then, bits are breaking or falling off. And then there's the team strategist....


So my question is why would he want to stay even if he could?


A year is an awful long time in motorsport and it would be about that long ago that rumours started to emerge about Brendon potentially heading off to Indycar, on a three year deal if my sources were correct. And that deal was as team mate alongside Scott Dixon at the iconic Chip Ganassi Racing Team. Then the Toro Rosso thing came up and boom, he was in Formula One. I've got a few theories about how that came about, but it's out there in the public domain that the Indycar deal was on the table first. Toro Rosso, already light on drivers, decided to have another look at former Red Bull junior driver B. Hartley, much as they have done before with other former Red Bull drivers, much as they are doing right now and much as no doubt they will continue to do in the future. The Ganassi contract included a caveat allowing Brendon to park it for an F1 deal. And that's where it gets interesting. Could he just park the Indycar deal? Or did he have to ditch it completely?


Let's just say for a moment that the Indycar contract was a three year deal binding Brendon to Ganassi, and that Toro Rosso wanted Brendon for a season to see how he went, before perhaps taking up the option on the other two years of that Ganassi contract. In effect buying him out of it for one third of its duration, then having the option to keep him and buy out the other two years.


Let's also imagine for a moment (not too hard) that Brendon's patience is wearing thinner than anybody's. Might he be able to walk straight out of Toro Rosso at the end of the season and into a Chip Ganassi Honda powered Indycar with a two year contract in his pocket?


Like I said, a year is a long time in Formula One. Actually, it’s a long time in anything these days, let alone a racing category. I think if Brendon has any say in the matter - and let's hope his fantastic and tenacious Kiwi management team will have facilitated that  - then if I were him I'd be seriously contemplating getting out of Toro Rosso and having the next two years in Indycar alongside the legend that is Scott Dixon. Five titles Scott has, he's one of the best ever in Indycar and could yet win another title or two. But beyond that, if we want a Kiwi to carry on winning races and titles in that arena, we're going to need a Dixon successor. And may be the intention was that the Dixon successor should be Brendon. Work alongside Scott for three years, learn the ways of the winner then become de facto Number One with Scott retiring with six, or may be even seven titles.


There are a few other factors at play as to why this scenario could work, not least because of Brendon's Honda connections. No Alonso-style whinging about GP2 level engines from the Kiwi this season, just relentless positivity and a happy go lucky demeanour when it has gone wrong. The Kiwi way. An attitude that sits well with Honda and one Ganassi would be well used to by now.  Ganassi's last minute replacement for Brendon was Ed Jones and he’s now been replaced by Felix Rosenqvist. Door locked? May be. Chip himself said a little while ago that a return to a four car team was off the agenda after reducing team size from four to two cars for last season. But a three car team? Well, he’s been there before…


So, if you're listening Brendon - take a walk mate. F1's not worth it. Life's too short and the bullshit that comes with F1 will never change. Plus it's as boring as hell right now and showing no signs of even accepting that let alone fixing it. If that Ganassi window is still open – or any Indycar window -take it. Look at what Scott has achieved and the recognition he has had globally (and now, finally, let's hope here too) as one of the all-time greats. You could have a bit of that. Hey and who knows, you might even win the Indy 500, get to put the Borg Warner replica on a shelf at home alongside your Le Mans trophy and rightly put your name up there along with the greats. I think lots of us here would like that.


Wouldn't that be an awful lot better than what's on offer in F1?


For now though, I'm still in the thick of my frustration on his behalf. One sliver of hope for you all ahead of a huge weekend of motorsport in which Kiwis will shine. It's the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend and Honda will no doubt pull out all of the stops and more to give both Brendon and Pierre Gasly a worthwhile nudge up the pecking order. Regardless of what the future holds, how good would it be for Brendon to bag a decent qualifying position and an even better race result. The fact that it is Honda's home Grand Prix might give him his best chance of the season so far.