Brendon Hartley’s bombshell announcement that he had split with struggling Formula E outfit GEOX Dragon seemingly surprised more people than it really should have – it was always going to happen.
A decision bred by being checked into the metaphoric Overlook Hotel over the last three-month isolation period or one brewing since Porsche’s snub at the Kiwi even before his debut race in Diriyah late last year, either way, Hartley certainly kept his lips tightly sealed on the matter.
Ultimately, his decision was announced by a cursory statement offered by both Hartley and the team on their ‘mutual’ separation.
“I appreciate the opportunity to compete with GEOX Dragon, and really enjoyed my time with the team, and wish them every success for their future in Formula E,” read the Kiwi’s statement.
“I want to thank Brendon for all of his efforts, and I wish him success in his future endeavours, he has been immensely helpful in the development of our powertrain and overall program,” added Dragon team owner Jay Penske.
Neither two sentiments are overly mawkish, Hartley could well have been the team’s lollipop man and have received a more deserving public send-off.
Yet, while compelling your team to hastily seek a replacement driver in a period already overshadowed by a global pandemic undoubtedly is fuel for a bit vitriol on Dragon’s behalf, nonetheless, Hartley quickly waved au revoir on what was a woefully disappointing short-lived debut.
His exit showcases the constantly revolving door of the Dragon team which has fielded no less than five drivers in the past 18 races.
The double World Endurance Championship title winner was dogged by a combination of an inherent lack of pace and on-track incidents, most notably crashing in the opening practice session in his debut at Diriyah which compromised the rest of his weekend.
Likewise, the tumultuous Penske EV-4 powertrain that drives Dragon’s season six challenger has been plagued by a malady of reliability issues over the course of the season, illustrated by Hartley’s teammate Nico Muller only having finished two of the opening five races with a best result of 12th.
Hartley did prove to be the quicker of the two and he out-qualified Muller on four out of five occasions and peaked with a 12th place start at the last round in Marrakesh. The Kiwi also scored the team’s sole points after post-race penalties promoted Hartley to ninth in the second round of the championship.
But importantly, the team failed to rectify many of its significant issues over the condensed opening half to the season and, if history is anything to go by, the American outfit will continue to slump to the rear of the grid.
Since its shock second-placed finish in the inaugural teams’ championship, Dragon has only been stuck in reverse gear with each season yielding a worse result than the previous one till today where the sit 11th out of the 12 teams.
Hartley signed for the squad last August to replace the outgoing Maximilian Guenther who left Dragon for the BMW I Andretti outfit with which he has since become a race winner and title protagonist.
However, following his well-documented sacking from the Toro Rosso F1 team in 2018, Hartley was reeled in by long-time ex-employer Porsche to carry out extensive development on their new Formula E entry.
Hartley was primed for one of the two available Porsche drives but had his name scrubbed off of the driver list when the team felt the Kiwi was too much of a risky undertaking due to his lack of experience.
Ultimately, Porsche have also emerged as much of a failure as Dragon. Barring one trip to the podium in an accident-filled opening race in Diriyah, the German manufacturer has scored one further points finish.
But securing a Porsche drive would most likely have seen Hartley stay onboard for the rest of the season and offer him and the team valuable base knowledge to hammer out any niggling issues whilst developing a competitive powertrain.
He did concede his disappointment for missing out on the drive before the being picked up by Dragon and admitted “there is no animosity” between the two parties. But by failing to nurture their test driver into a full-time role and instead opting for an experienced pairing that seems dead in the water has seen a storied world-class driver slip through Porsche’s and Formula E’s fingertips.
Hartley was coy on why he did pull the plug on Dragon, several sources citing his preference to focus on his WEC commitments the primary explanation.
However, WEC is likely more a scapegoat for Hartley’s reasoning with the restart to the new season scheduled to begin after the Formula E finale next month.
No more than one-fifth of the Formula E grid excluding Hartley are also contracted to WEC outfits but all will see out the Berlin finale before making arrangements to travel to Belgium for the return of WEC at Spa-Francorchamps that same week.
Thus, it is perfectly logical to race all six remaining Formula E races before flying out to Spa the same day the chequered flag falls on 2020.
But Hartley was often cut a dejected figure in the Formula E paddock despite his impressive sporting accomplishments that outrival the vast sum of the grid, and several key reasons outside of WEC has led him to trigger an early escape from a perpetual problem.
Thus, the writing was always on the wall for his exit in a curtailed debut season that never amounted to much; though who exactly authored that exit can only ever be answered in speculation…something we kind of like to do right now.