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A history of Kiwis in F1

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When Brendon Hartley is mentioned ahead of the All Blacks, it is a clear sign of motor sport's enduring appeal in New Zealand. The revered rugby team may be playing Scotland this weekend but such an important match has been edged out of sports headlines back home by the Kiwi's F1 contract for 2018.

It's hardly surprising the Hartley/Toro Rosso deal was the lead item on Friday's breakfast TV and radio news when you consider it's been more than 30 years since this small nation had a representative in Grand Prix racing.

On the other hand, you could have excused a degree of scepticism thanks to Mike Thackwell's race debut in 1980 lasting all of 50 metres before he was caught up in a multi-car collision in Canada and subsequent occasional F1 attempts were written off by DNQs and a retirement from the back of the field.

Before that, John Nicholson (the respected Nicholson-McLaren engine tuner who passed away this year) made two brief appearances in his Lyncar-Cosworth in the British Grand Prix and Graham McRae, renowned for his engineering as much as his driving in F5000, retired from the 1973 British Grand Prix when his Iso Marlboro failed after a single lap.

The other Frank Williams Iso, driven by Howden Ganley, finished one lap down in ninth place that day; a result of persistence that characterised the New Zealander's career as he took part in 35 Grands Prix and scored points five times (in the days before championship points were more or less handed out for turning up).

For the inspirational and rock-solid foundation of New Zealand motor sport pride, we need to step further back in time and pay tribute to pioneers Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Denny Hulme as they packed their bags and travelled to Europe.

Bruce's legacy is on display in the McLaren Technology Centre and its seemingly endless line of trophies and championship-winning machinery. Denny won the world title with Brabham before becoming a stalwart of McLaren, particularly in the desperate days following Bruce's death at Goodwood in 1970.

As for poor Amon... The greatest driver never to have won a Grand Prix is still revered in New Zealand 15 months after his passing, if only because Chris's charm and modesty matched his outstanding talent. Were Amon around today, he would be tickled by the thought that Hartley has become the first Kimi to race for an Italian F1 team since Chris's heady days at Ferrari 50 years ago. (The least said about his desperate period with Tecno in 1973, the better.)

Amon would also be the first to realise that once the initial compliments are done, Hartley is at the beginning of a difficult road. Red Bull are tough task masters, a fact the man from Palmerston North is painfully acquainted with after being unceremoniously dropped by the their young driver scheme half way through 2010.

The key here is that Hartley turned that into a positive by putting his head down, getting on with his career, collecting two World Endurance Championships and then having the confidence to knock on Red Bull's door as a man, having been booted off the premises seven years ago as a boy.

Such fortitude and self-belief would impress anyone pulling on an All Black shirt this weekend - which is all that needs to be said to understand the strong sense of approval and pleasure currently swirling around two small islands on the other side of the world.