Brendon Hartley has been an instrumental part of Porsche's 919 Hybrid LMP1 program, having teamed to win twelve races and two championships in the last four years. With that program coming to an end, Mr. Hartley has moved his focus back to Formula 1. For the couple of years leading up to his stint with Porsche's LMP1 program, Hartley was an F1 test driver and acquired a lot of experience in the simulators and with development of the various cars. For the final few races of the 2017 F1 season, Brendon earned a seat with Scuderia Toro Rosso (basically Red Bull's B-team) and it was recently announced he would be taking over that seat for the full 2018 season as well. We'd figured Hartley would be out of his Porsche contract in deference to this new one in F1, but this report from Motorsport.com indicates that Porsche will continue to employ Brendon. We can't help but wonder why?
Porsche has been absent from the Formula 1 grid since 1991 when they last supplied engines to the Footwork grand prix team. With 2021's upcoming engine rules changes that will see a simpler, and less expensive to engineer engine regulation set, Porsche has expressed interest in becoming an engine supplier. However, I think they might have larger plans for Formula 1, and for Hartley, on the horizon.
This weekend in Bahrain, Porsche LMP1 Team boss Andreas Seidl was asked whether the Toro Rosso deal affected Hartley's status with the German manufacturer's motorsport plans. His answer is a somewhat telling, "Not really." When probed, Seidl continued, "Obviously we will put some limitations in terms of what he can do for us, because he will have quite a busy schedule, but with the history we have built together, we definitely want to continue. The program within Porsche motorsport is huge, and there will be plenty of opportunities also for Brendon within the Porsche family also in the next years.”
It's the "next years" part that I'm most intrigued with. Evidently Porsche intends to keep Hartley around for a few years, and perhaps this Formula 1 experience will be beneficial to their future needs. While the team is already ramping up a Formula E program, perhaps they're working on another open wheeler, for Formula 1, in the next years. For a long time Porsche's parent company Volkswagen has wanted some form of presence in the world's most watched form of motorsport, and after a few fits and starts, this could be their opportunity. To develop a brand new Formula 1 program, you'd better get a very early start on it. If they are working on a 2021 Formula 1 effort already, Brendon Hartley would be a great lead driver for a new team. He's been properly quick, having gotten back up to speed with F1 in short order. Porsche knows the kid and trusts him, which goes a long ways.
Will we see Porsche in Formula 1? Will Brendon Hartley be the one leading the charge for our favorite manufacturer from Stuttgart? Only time will tell, but we're hopeful.