This weekend is potentially the biggest in decades for New Zealand motorsport. Not only do we have five Kiwis taking to the streets of Albert Park for round two of the Supercars championship, more importantly we now have a Kiwi about to start a full season in Formula One.
That's right, Brendon Hartley is not doing the odd F1 race, he's locked and loaded for the entirety of 2018 season. Interestingly I have been asked a few times over the past month or so if he deserves to be in Formula One.
Of course he does, in fact anyone 'deserves' to be in F1, if you've got a big enough bank balance. It's a bit like folk who buy a really expensive dive watch like a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms GT at around $30,000. If you got the money go for it, even though you don't know how to scuba dive.
The more important question should be, are you good enough to be able to scuba dive to a depth of 90-odd metres. The same goes for F1 drivers, and if you ask who is good enough to be in F1 you'll get a different answer.
So let's just put it out there, is Hartley good enough to be in F1? Of course he bloody well is — more so than a number of drivers who'll be on the grid at the Australian Grand Prix this weekend.
His pedigree at the elite level of motorsport is up there with the best of them. He won the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship, is a two-time World Endurance Championship winner and a Le Mans 24 Hour winner. That's just titles he's won. You also have to take into account that he was part of the Red Bull Junior Development squad, a reserve driver for Toro Rosso, spent two years on the Mercedes simulator helping develop their F1 car, and driving it during testing, and was offered a spot at Chip Ganassi's IndyCar team alongside Scott Dixon.
Is he good enough? More of a moot question I'd say.
Hartley also brings more than his race-winning history to the Toro Rosso garage. He's is genuinely recognised as one of the best development drivers there is — just what the doctor ordered for the team as they embark on a relationship with their new engine supplier Honda.
There's more though, and to me a valuable little piece of experience not many of the other drivers in the field have. This year sees the introduction of the halo for F1 cars, and it has been mentioned that through a tight section of a track where the cars gets flicked from side-to-side it's hard to see the turn in point because of the reduced view.
On occasions when I had a chance to interview both Hartley and Earl Bamber about what they could see out of the cockpit of a LMP1 car, the reply was for the most 'not much'. Bamber in particular mentioned that sometimes at tight sections of the track it was difficult to see where the apex was. Having experienced all this already, Hartley will be best placed to adapt to halo better than most.
Come Sunday afternoon bar any mishaps, look for Hartley to have been at the very least in the points.