By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Brendon Hartley will become New Zealand’s first Formula One driver in 33 years at next week’s U.S. Grand Prix after being called up by Toro Rosso on Friday as replacement for French rookie Pierre Gasly.
Gasly has clashing commitments in Japan, where he will be trying to win the Super Formula championship for the Mugen Honda team, but is set to return for the final three rounds of the season.
Hartley, this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours winner and a world endurance champion, will add his name to a roll call of Kiwi Formula One drivers that currently ends with Mike Thackwell in 1984.
The most successful of the eight to date were the late Bruce McLaren and 1967 world champion Denny Hulme.
Hartley, 27, said it was an amazing feeling to be contemplating a debut at last and felt ready for it at a track he already knows from world endurance.
“This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1,” the driver, who is racing at Japan’s Fuji track this weekend, said in a team statement.
“I have grown and learnt so much since the days when I was the Red Bull and Toro Rosso reserve driver, and the tough years I went through made me stronger and even more determined,” he added.
Hartley last tested for Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso in 2009 and has not driven an F1 car since 2012, before the new generation of turbo hybrid engines.
He won at Le Mans with Porsche this year and is competing in the World Endurance Championship, a sportscar title he won in 2015 and looks set to repeat this year.
The New Zealander will be the second driver to debut with the Italy-based team this season after Gasly was drafted in for the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix in place of under-performing Russian Daniil Kvyat.
Kvyat will be back for Austin because Spaniard Carlos Sainz moved to Renault after last weekend’s race in Japan, with Toro Rosso still to confirm their definitive lineup for 2018.
Team boss Franz Tost welcomed Hartley back as part of the Red Bull family.
“We are really happy to have him back in our team. With all the racing experience accumulated over the years, we are convinced that he will do a fantastic job for us,” he said.
Toro Rosso are sixth in the constructors’ championship, 14 points behind Williams in fifth, with four races to go.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Larry King and Ken Ferris)