New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley and Australian Daniel Ricciardo form a new trans-Tasman partnership when they debut as Red Bull team mates in the opening round of the 3.5 World Series Renault Championship in Spain this weekend (April 17-18)
The pairing of these two 20-year-old Australasians in the same team is a reminder of the famous 1960’s partnership between Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham. That Kiwi-Aussie combination triumphed; producing back-to-back Formula 1 World Championship titles – Brabham in 1966 and Hulme in 1967 – in Brabham-built chassis, powered by Australian Repco V8 engines.
Reminiscent of the early career partnership of Hulme and Brabham; more than 40 years later this pair are already intimately involved in Formula 1 racing with a leading Grand Prix team.
Hartley and Ricciardo currently split the Reserve Driver role for the two Red Bull-owned Formula 1 teams (Renault-engined Red Bull Racing and Ferrari-engined Scuderia Toro Rosso), alternating attendance at Grand Prix race weekends and sharing a ‘test driver’ role in the Red Bull Racing chassis development simulator at the British team’s Milton Keynes base.
Red Bull Racing has fielded the fastest car during qualifying at all three F1 races this year; and drivers Sebastian Vettel (Germany) and Mark Webber (Australia) finished 1-2 in the most recent Grand Prix in Malaysia. Both Hartley and Ricciardo have shared in developing the latest Adrian Newey car.
However, this weekend the two Red Bull Junior drivers, step away from their aspiring Formula 1 careers to become team mates and adversaries within the French Tech 1 Racing team as their joint 2010 racing season begins in Europe.
Hartley is starting his second season of WSR with Tech 1, having contested selected races alongside his European Formula 3 and Red Bull Formula 1 commitments in 2009. Ricciardo, winner of last year’s British Formula 3 Championship, competed in just one WSR round during the 2009 season.
Hartley says he is feeling confident heading into the eight round WSR season, particularly as he has a “good strong team mate” to work with him in developing the 3.5-litre car.
“Daniel is fast and I trust him. You always want to beat your team mate, whatever the situation,” said Hartley. “You want to prove yourself to be the best. We are good friends and we know we are both fast – so the last little bit is up to us...”
Both Hartley and Ricciardo missed a couple of days of pre-season WSR collective testing because of their Red Bull Formula 1 commitments but Hartley was on the pace, running consistently in the top three at the final testing in Spain. Ricciardo has been recovering from a hand injury during training.
After three months on the F1 simulator, testing with the WSR team and an intensive training programme, Hartley says he is fit and ready for the season ahead.
“I’ve been working with a new trainer on a slightly different programme. Some days I’ve been in the gym for up to four hours and I’ve been getting more variety in my workouts. I’ve also been putting in more outside training.”
“I’m feeling really positive about this year. Last season I was thrown in the deep end because I didn’t get any preparation time and did not do any pre season Renault testing. I intend to make the most of this year after such a good build up”
Hartley is also pleased with a new race weekend format for WSR this season. The ‘reverse grid’ race has been dropped and he says the new format – with the fastest at the front - is fairer and there are better opportunities to win races.
Each race will be preceded by the corresponding qualifying session, making each day of racing independent from the other. Also, on the Saturday of each leg - except for Monaco where single race is scheduled - it is compulsory for the cars to be set up with a new “light” aerodynamics configuration.
Competitors will use a smaller rear wing, with limited deflection angles fixed by the regulations. Skirts will also be outlawed. For Race 2, which will feature a compulsory pit stop with at least a change of one pair of tyres, drivers will be able to choose their setup. This means the competitors will have to adapt their driving to different aero behaviour from one day to the next.
Tech 1 boss Simon Abadie says Hartley is a “sure-fire championship contender”.
"Brendon's learned a lot last season and has shown incredible speed. He has a year's experience under his belt in this formula, which make him one of the favourites for the drivers' title. We didn't have a lot of luck with him in 2009, but, when we fit all the pieces together, he'll be one hell of a challenger."