Brendon Hartley says the initial target for his maiden full season in Formula 1 is to score his first points with the New Zealander hoping to be in the mix at the Australian Grand Prix.
The Toro Rosso driver is making his Albert Park debut this weekend in only his third ever visit to Australia having spent the majority of his career racing in Europe.
Hartley has endured an unusual climb to F1 that began in junior single seater formulas in New Zealand, before being picked up by Red Bull’s famous young driver program at the age of 18.
Ten years on he will now begin his first full season in F1 ironically with Red Bull’s sister team after the energy drinks giant dropped him from the program in 2010, having failed to pick up the required results.
The 28-year-old steadily rebuilt his career after his F1 dream appeared to be over, moving into sportscars courtesy of Porsche’s now defunct LMP1 program, before a twist of fate saw him land a drive at Toro Rosso last year.
The FIA World Endurance champion and reigning Le Mans 24 Hours winner initially replaced Pierre Gasly at the United States Grand Prix before then taking over the seat occupied by Daniil Kvyat.
Keen to impress in his first full F1 campaign, the Kiwi has set his sights on a points finish this weekend.
“I’m trying not to think about the whole season because I think it doesn’t make sense right now to think too far ahead,” said Hartley, when quizzed about his season goals by Speedcafe.com.
“But definitely my goal is to get my first point in Formula 1, which is the target for this weekend.
“It’s going to be a tough ask because the midfield battle is really tight.
“Even after all the testing at Barcelona we know we’re in the midfield battle somewhere, but it’s hard to predict exactly where because we don’t know engine modes, fuel and how much people have improved since the Barcelona test.
“It’s definitely not a home race, just to clear that up before I cause a bit of upset at home. But it’s as close to home that I’ve driven in more than 10 or 12 years. It’s cool.”
Hartley, however, expects to face a tough midfield fight as Toro Rosso continues to adapt to its new Honda power units after switching from Renault last year.
“We know we’re in that battle somewhere, but the brief to us drivers was the start of the season could be difficult, but there’s quite an aggressive plan to improve both from engine and chassis through the season,” he said.
“There’s a lot of positivity we can keep improving during the year, but my first target is a point.”
With speeds set to increase again this year as teams continue to develop the cars following last year’s major regulation change, fuel saving is now thought to be even more of a factor during races.
Having raced LMP1 hybrid prototypes, Hartley feels he is well equipped to cope with the challenge.
“The fuel flow restrictions are the same for every car in fact, from a fuel point of view,” he added.
“But definitely I’m lucky I come from a formula that had even less fuel per lap.
“It was almost 20 percent less fuel in LMP1, so I’m very used to the feeling of having to get every last drop and make it count and where it’s most efficient to save a bit of fuel and all you can do in the driving style.
“I’m quite lucky to have that experience from the last four years.”
Hartley ended Friday’s opening practice in 18th before finishing Practice 2 in 16th position.