New Zealander Brendon Hartley will make his Formula One debut at the U.S. Grand Prix and, as Toro Rosso's official confirmation put it, it is an opportunity nearly a decade in the making.
Hartley was named a Red Bull junior in 2007 alongside a batch of drivers including Daniel Ricciardo. He contested that year's Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and won a series including future F1 drivers Jaime Alguersuari, Charles Pic, Roberto Merhi, Jules Bianchi and Ricciardo.
After being named official reserve driver for Red Bull and Toro Rosso in 2008, and testing twice for the latter, a move to British Formula 3 followed, where he finished third ahead of Sergio Perez and Marcus Ericsson. However, fellow Red Bull junior Alguersuari won the title and would step up to a Toro Rosso drive mid-way through the following season.
Hartley had to make do with a role as Red Bull reserve driver in 2009, a job he shared with Ricciardo, as he struggled for form in Formula Renault 3.5. He partnered Ricciardo in the 2010 season but was dropped from the driver programme mid-way through that campaign, being replaced in the series by Jean-Eric Vergne, who would drive for Toro Rosso in 2012 and 2013.
Speaking to ESPN during winter testing this season, Ricciardo said he rated Hartley as one of his toughest opponents in the early days of his Red Bull career and even credits the Kiwi as one of the reasons he was able to overcome homesickness after his initial move to Europe from Australia.
"Eventually [after moving] I made some friends, like Brendon Hartley, who was racing in the same series that year so I could relate to him, he was from the same part of the world and a Red Bull driver at the time so he was someone I was trying to aspire to," Ricciardo said. "I made a few friends and that helped, you then share stories ... [Hartley] lived in east Germany somewhere and he said it was tough. You can kind of help each other get through it."
After a loss of backing, Hartley had sporadic appearances in GP2 and another frustrating season in Formula Renault 3.5 before an appearance with Mercedes at the 2012 young driver test at Paul Ricard. He finished that day third and would continue simulator work for the German manufacturer into 2013.
However, his F1 opportunity appeared to have passed him by, with his focus switching fully to sports cars in 2014 when he signed up for a season with Porsche alongside former Red Bull driver Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard. While never reaching his true potential in single-seaters, Hartley has excelled ever since. The trio won the championship in 2015 and Hartley and Bernhard were joined by Earl Bamber -- who won the 2015 title alongside Nico Hulkenberg -- earlier this season as they won the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The New Zealander will be a popular addition to the grid in Austin, an opportunity which would have seemed like an impossibly long shot just a few weeks ago. A relatively late bloomer compared to some of his original Red Bull contemparies, his Formula One shot offers a remarkable opportunity to make a career move which otherwise looked to have passed him by a long time ago