Toro Rosso has confirmed Brendon Hartley, who won this year's Le Mans 24 Hours, will drive for the team at the U.S. Grand Prix while Pierre Gasly contests the championship finale of Super Formula in Japan.
New Zealander Hartley was formerly a Red Bull junior and had previous testing experience with the team in 2009, but his recent career has almost exclusively involved the World Endurance Championship (WEC), a title he won alongside Mark Webber in 2015. He will make his debut alongside the returning Daniil Kvyat, who had been stood-down by the team at the last two races.
With Carlos Sainz set to finish the 2017 season at Renault in place of Jolyon Palmer, Toro Rosso looked set to have Kvyat return alongside Gasly for the remaining races. However, there was uncertainty about whether Gasly would contest the Austin race or try to win the Super Formula championship, where he is one point off the lead ahead of the final race. On Friday, the team confirmed he will do the latter, giving Hartley a remarkable opportunity at a Formula One debut.
Hartley says the years he missed out on F1 made him more determined to make this opportunity a reality.
"What an amazing feeling!" Hartley said in the official press release. "This opportunity came as somewhat of a surprise, but I never did give up on my ambition and childhood dream to reach F1.
"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. I want to say a huge thanks to Red Bull for making this a reality, and to Porsche for allowing me to do this alongside the World Endurance Championship. COTA is a track I really enjoy and one I have raced at recently. I'm trying not to put too many expectations on my F1 debut, but I feel ready for it."
The 27-year-old will be the first Kiwi to contest a race since 1984. After serving as Red Bull's official driver in 2009 and 2010, Hartley was dropped from the junior programme, but had another opportunity in F1 with Mercedes at a young driver test for Mercedes in 2012.
His elevation to a drive for Austin is further proof Toro Rosso is unconvinced about its line-up for next season. With Carlos Sainz departing to Renault, the team looks set to hand a full-time role to Gasly, who impressed in Malaysia and Japan, but the team has doubts about Kvyat, who has endured a difficult time since being demoted from Red Bull in 2016.
Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost says the team has no doubts Hartley's extensive racing experience will set him up perfectly for the race in Austin.
"Brendon is coming as the reigning 24h Le Mans winner and he's also leading the current FIA LMP1 World Endurance Championship, which he won in 2015 as well," Tost said. "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."