Last week Red Bull F1 motorsport advisor, Dr. Helmut Marko, delivered a rather public savaging – expressed in the politest of terms – about Brendon Hartley describing his performance for Red Bull B-Team, Torro Rosso, as “not pleasing”. Hartley, a two times World Endurance champion, was parachuted into the sport at the last minute to replace sacked driver, Daniel Kyvat, at the tail-end of the 2017 season.
The New Zealander has plenty of single seat racing experience and has been involved with Red Bull, in one way or another, since 2010. But Formula One is a highly competitive arena where talented drivers can be made to look less than ordinary.
It takes more than just talent to succeed, Hartley is one such talented driver being lined up in Red Bull’s crosshairs for underperforming when measured against rookie and Jr teammate, Pierre Gasly. Gasly scored Torro Rosso’s highest finish in years when he secured P4 at the Bahrain GP whereas Hartley finished P17.
Hartley has the speed and technical aptitude to match Gasly’s pace but for whatever reason, that speed isn’t there when it is needed most. Naturally, this has made the Red Bull management look up and take notice.
Hartley’s huge crash at the Spanish Grand Prix during practice 3 really compounded matters. At the time the knives were not out, merely being sharpened, and now with Marko publicly stating “not pleasing” the knives are being openly held aloft with Hartley’s reflection caught in the mirror-like blade.
Hartley is in no way a bad driver, he just needs to put a weekend together and show consistency, he showed speed at Monaco, but when it counted he didn’t nail a lap time, because of traffic issues or whatever. But it doesn’t matter, from now on the Red Bull knives will be searching for a victim. Red Bull is in Terminator mode.
Contrast this with Verstappen who has made mistake after mistake in every race so far in the 2018 Red Bull with not so much as a raised eyebrow and you can smell the stench of double standards. Verstappen is now a seasoned campaigner but he is making rookie mistakes.
At Baku, he was totally to blame for the crash which caused both Red Bulls to retire, the aftermath of the crash saw Daniel Ricciardo bleat out a rehearsed PR statement saying no one was to blame, it was like watching an ISIS hostage being held at gunpoint forced to record a propaganda video.
Red Bull F1 should have followed their typical modus operandi with underperforming drivers and demoted Verstappen. However, Verstappen has got the speed and can nail a lap time when it matters, but his biggest weakness is his ‘PlayStation’ mentality.
In his desire to make up as many places as possible, or defend, Verstappen either doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions or he simply doesn’t care. And the media is partly to blame for we constantly put him on an upper pedestal as a future world champion in the making.
One can only assume Verstappen believes in the hype surrounding him and as a consequence is living in a bubble. Because Verstappen has the speed he is safe, but Hartley is in a precarious position despite, statistically, making fewer mistakes than Verstappen.
F1 is about results, points and money it isn’t a free lunch (the Red Bull F1 Hospitality suite serves the most amazing food btw) and for Hartley, the clock is ticking.