WEC champion Brendon Hartley: 'In F1 you are under a microscope'

WEC champion Brendon Hartley: 'In F1 you are under a microscope'

14-05-2023 17:00 Last update: 20:12

Ludo van Denderen

Brendon Hartley surprisingly got the chance to debut in Formula 1 for Toro Rosso in 2017. Just over a year later, the adventure was over. One experience richer, one illusion poorer. Meanwhile, he is the reigning world champion in the WEC. A conversation about pressure, being under a magnifying glass and the ideal way to break free from racing.

The Hartley of then and now is a different one. The New Zealander is comfortable in his skin, older, and therefore more experienced and wiser. "Yeah, I feel really, I don't want to say at a peak, but yeah, I feel like I'm really performing at the best I ever have," the reigning World Endurance Championship (WEC) champion told GPblog during an exclusive interview. "I think it comes from understanding yourself. I'm always impressed when I see someone like Max, who arrived in F1 at 18 or 19 and was almost the full package. At 18 or 19, I wasn't."

Getting to the right mental state

"And I feel at 33, I've continued to improve. I know myself well. I know how to get myself in the right mental state before the qualifying lap or the race. It's a lot about mind management in this sport. With experience, you know how to deal with yourself better and get yourself in that right frame of mind. And then that also includes what you do outside of the racetrack. I guess I've learned that over the years. It comes from experience and making mistakes. When I'm away from the racetrack, I need to disconnect from racing. That's clear. It makes me happy, keeps me calm. I have a young daughter now. We do a lot of things outdoors together. My training is quite diverse. I think that's important for me. Every driver is going to be different. They're going to give you a different story on what they do. I've found what makes me happy and keeps me mentally sharp. It's having a bit of diversity but also being outside as much as possible. The training is important for me, not just physically, but mentally."

In recent seasons, Hartley has usually been the one driving the Toyota during qualifying for WEC races. "The most pressure is generally before the qualifying session. It's one lap. All the eyes are on you for that one lap. For me, that's the point of the weekend that I feel the most stress. You feel the heart beating through your chest.  Before, yes, there was some level of stress. You need some nerves to be fully focused.  For qualifying, I feel the most nervous, stressed, whatever you want to call it." 

'Stress is part of the job'

Hartley has his own routine to get into his rhythm. "The race is different. I like to arrive at the race a bit more relaxed. It's a different mentality in qualifying than in the race. It depends if it's qualifying or if it's the race. For qualifying, I'm doing a bit of a warm-up routine. I normally listen to music for half an hour before. It's probably the same music I've been listening to for the last 10 years. I have my own little...  It's not superstition. It's a routine, and it makes me feel good. It puts me in the right time frame."

"There is pressure. There is stress, but that's part of the job. It's about using that pressure and stress to your advantage. Without any nerves or stress, I think you'd be focusing on something else. You need some kind of nervous energy. Obviously, too much is not good, but it's part of being a sportsperson. Particularly in racing, there's a huge amount of adrenaline as well. It's a different type of stress when you're in the car than when you're outside. Again, it's about knowing yourself and how to use that in a positive way and get the most out of it."

Copying F1

A walk through the paddock of a race for the WEC is now similar to a trip through the F1 paddock. Teams in the hypercar class are also bringing huge, futuristic motorhomes and hospitality units for this world championship. WEC is big. And in it, Brendon Hartley is a big man. When the driver of the absolute best team, Toyota, talks, people listen. How different it was during his time with Toro Rosso. Back then, people mainly talked about him.

"Formula 1, of course, I would have liked to have stayed longer and kept progressing," says the New Zealander. "I developed a lot during that season and I was doing a very good job at the end of the year. We didn’t have the car to finish in the points all the time. I learnt so much from that season.  Some things were tough."

"Sometimes some of the questions the media was asking or rumours. Sometimes you are under the microscope. I didn't always enjoy that. But again, it taught me a lot and it made me a lot stronger as a driver coming out the other side of that.  I look back really only positively. Absolutely no regrets. I gave it my best shot. There are only 20 cars on the grid."

With his buk of experience, Hartley would be a perfect development driver for a Formula One team. After leaving [Toro Rosso], he worked briefly for Ferrari, but now he has no ties to F1. "At one point I was with four different manufacturers because I was still doing testing for Porsche. I started racing Formula E. I couldn't actually do everything. I'm kind of open to everything, but I prefer racing with testing. I was just going to say no plan."