Hartley gains F1 superlicence

Last updated 12:23 01/05/2009

Hartley close to F1 dream

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New Zealand driver Brendon Hartley has inched closer to a Formula One drive after being granted an international superlicence this week, allowing the Red Bull team to immediately name him their reserve driver beginning with the Spanish Grand Prix from May 8-10.

Hartley will understudy German Sebastien Vettel and Australian Mark Webber. He will take the wheel if either fall ill or get injured leading into the race.

Hartley qualified for a superlicence when he stepped in for an injured Webber in December for testing, successfully completing over 300km at the Jerez circuit in Spain.

He has also tested for the Toro Rosso F1 team which is sponsored by Red Bull.

Red Bull who based at Milton Keynes in Britain is currently second in the F1 Constructors Championship and, after winning the Chinese Grand Prix, Vettel is third in the drivers' championship.

"I am very happy to have been granted my super licence," Hartley said.

"I must thank Red Bull for all their support since 2005 and this new role is another step on the path to reaching my goal of being a Formula 1 driver.

"I know that with the new in-season testing ban, I'm not likely to get much cockpit time, but I will be part of the team and will learn a lot from that."

Hartley's elevation has been hailed in New Zealand.

"We were notified this morning of the application approval by the FIA (International Automobile Federation)," Motorsport NZ president Steven Kennedy said.

"This is a great achievement for Brendon as he is the first New Zealand driver in over three decades to have achieved F1 driver status.

"We are delighted that another New Zealander will be seen carrying the flag in one of the highest profile sports in the world."

Hartley has lived and raced in Europe since the age of 15 when he was invited to a Red Bull junior driver assessment course in Portugal at the end of 2005.

In 2007 he took the championship title in the Formula Renault Euro Cup and last year came third in the competitive British Formula 3 series.

The next three weeks will be hectic for Hartley. He is currently in Belgium for this weekend's second round of the World Series by Renault championship at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

After the Barcelona Formula One round, he will race the opening round of the European Formula 3 Championship at Hockenheim in Germany.

Since the Formula One championship began in 1950 only eight New Zealand drivers have competed and it is nearly 30 years since the most recent, Mike Thackwell in 1984.

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The other kiwi drivers to have raced in Formula One are 1967 champion Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon, Howden Ganley, Graham McRae, John Nicholson and Tony Shelly.

-NZPA

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