Former Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley has revealed that there were plans to replace him as early as the Monaco Grand Prix last year.
Hartley was first drafted in as a Toro Rosso driver at the 2017 U.S. Grand Prix, seven years after being cut from Red Bull's young driver programme at the age of 20. The remarkable comeback was extended to a full season in 2018, with Hartley racing alongside Pierre Gasly, who has now been promoted to Red Bull for 2019.
Hartley, however, was dropped at the end of the season as Toro Rosso opted to bring back former driver Daniil Kvyat and pair him with F2 runner up Alex Albon. Hartley was informed of the decision at the final round in Abu Dhabi last year, but he said there were plans to replace him as early as Monaco when Toro Rosso approached McLaren reserve driver Lando Norris.
"What I will remember most about it [the Monaco Grand Prix weekend] is walking down to the paddock to meet with the media on the Wednesday before the weekend started, and receiving a bunch of questions about my future," he explained in an article on The Players' Tribune. "Here I am, a handful of races into my F1 career, and I'm being asked about the end.
"The worst part of that day, though, was finding out there was some truth to the rumours. After a few races, there were some people, it appeared, who didn't want me there. I'll be honest, this was a bit of a shock.
"After entering F1 with a wealth of experience, two World Endurance championships, a win at Le Mans, and out qualifying my teammate two out of the first three races, it was hard to for me to believe that there was talk of my being replaced so early.
"I walked back to our apartment that night looking at the walls of the Monte Carlo circuit, knowing that, if I binned it, if I made contact with those walls this weekend, my F1 career might end in a few days. I knew every practice session carried more weight for me. Every lap time, every result was going to be under scrutiny and could be used against me to leverage my seat.
"That's a unique type of pressure that I hadn't quite experienced before."
After a series of engine issues and some bad luck, Hartley went into the final race of 2018 with just four points. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi not knowing what his future would hold.
"Like the fans, I had no idea what was going to happen," he added. "That's the thing about the politics in F1, it can be a little bit ... awkward. Everyone sort of walks on eggshells, and there isn't always clarity. So I just did all I could: my job. I out-qualified my teammate and drove to 12th on Sunday night.
"An hour later, I was summoned to a meeting. And a few minutes after that, I was no longer an F1 driver.
"I walked down to the garage and I told some of the guys that I wouldn't be coming back. That was tough. These boys and girls had put so many hours of their life into the sport and the team and they don't always get the praise they deserve, so often the focus goes towards the driver rather than the team overall. I was a proud member of Toro Rosso and Honda, and saying goodbye that day was one of the hardest things I've had to do."
Hartley's full article can be found on The Players Tribune.