Brendon Hartley admits he was emotional when he returned to the pits after securing a career-best qualifying result of sixth place for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Toro Rosso has been able to use an updated Honda power unit at Suzuka and duly looked quick throughout practice, with both cars reaching Q3 in mixed qualifying conditions. Hartley is facing an uncertain future having been comfortably beaten by teammate Pierre Gasly on a number of occasions this season, but he managed to edge out the Frenchman to secure sixth and was struck by the magnitude of the result after the checkered flag.
“Honestly, that felt awesome,” Hartley said. “It was quite emotional on the in lap, which is not something that normally happens to me, but it was just all the build-up of crap over the last six months and knowing that I’ve got better and better, but haven’t always had the chance to show it, or things haven’t gone my way — strategy in races haven’t been in my favor if I’ve been the tailing car, or missing out in qualifying to Pierre by half a tenth, one tenth, whatever it was.
“Today felt good. It was high pressure. The track was tricky — my first time in Suzuka on what is a real driver’s track. Really proud of the qualifying session and also for Honda, grateful for the PU update. Toro Rosso’s strategy put us on the track at the right time, fine tuning the car so it was in a place where I was really happy with it.
“Really stoked to start P6. Obviously it’s only half the job, but I’m going to try and enjoy it for a small moment. There’s been a build-up of frustration over the last few months as I’ve got better and better, and I have been strong. There’s things that have happened behind the scenes that I could always talk about or reasons that things haven’t gone my way. Today it came together. I’m very happy.”
Hartley was keen to praise Honda’s role in the result, with the new power unit proving a clear step forward in terms of performance in Suzuka.
“Definitely we have a big thank you to say to Honda. There’s no question that brought performance today, and it will in the race tomorrow. The exact number, I don’t know. A lot of media outlets have been quoting half a second (gain) — I don’t know if that’s true or not. In any case, I don’t think we would be fighting for Q3 without the update.
“We’ve just been hanging off the back of Q3 for a while now, apart from Budapest in mixed conditions. The midfield battle is so tight that any gain Honda could give us is very valuable, and that proved itself today. To deliver in front of all the Honda and Japanese fans was pretty special. I know it’s only half the job, but I’m sure we made a lot of people happy today with that performance.”