Kiwi Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley is hoping an upgrade to his Toro Rosso's Honda engine will be the catalyst for a strong result at the manufacturer's home Grand Prix in Japan this weekend.

Both Hartley and teammate Pierre Gasly took grid penalties for introducing new engines at last weekend's Russian Grand Prix in order to be in the best shape possible for Japan.

Both cars were forced out of the race early in Sochi as they battled brake issues.

The Toro Rosso cars have struggled in recent times as other cars in the mid-pack have undergone upgrades.

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"It is a constant battle with bringing updates and evolving the car during the season," Hartley told Newstalk ZB. "The last one we had was quite a few months ago and it didn't really work so that put us on the back foot the last four or five races but I know there are some big steps [with this current upgrade].

"I am still optimistic we could have a strong end to the year if everything comes together."

Hartley has never raced at the Suzuka track — his previous visits to Japan in the World Endurance Championship were always at the Fuji circuit. He has spent time learning the layout on the simulator but admits he has no idea if it will suit his Toro Rosso package.

"In some ways I have given up trying to guess," Hartley said. "At Spa and Monza we thought they were going to be tricky for us and in truth we probably had the potential to get the last point and we were more competitive than we thought.

"We went to Singapore thinking it was a great opportunity for us and we ended up fighting at the back of the grid.

"It is so compacted in terms of difference of lap time from P7 or P8 to the back of the grid that if one team finds something on that particular weekend, gets everything working perfectly you can leapfrog and be knocking on the door of those points."