Kiwi driver Brendon Hartley primed for new season after first round of testing

Kiwi Brendon Hartley is full of optimism ahead of his first full season as a Formula 1 driver.

The 28-year-old has been putting his new-look Toro Rosso car through its paces ahead of the new campaign which begins in Melbourne next month, recording the eighth fastest time in the first full day of testing in Barcelona.

Hartley racked up 93 laps in the opening run, second only to Australian Daniel Ricciardo (105), who also recorded the fastest lap.

His best time of one minute 22.271 seconds was 2.192sec slower than his Red Bull Racing rival and only a fraction behind world champion Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes.

After struggling with engine problems last season the team have opted to part ways with Renault and move to a Honda engine, and the early signs have been promising.

"The driveability of the engine is one of the best I’ve driven in a Formula 1 car, so it was really positive in all aspects. Absolutely no complaints from me," said Hartley after the opening test run.

"Balance-wise, we were pretty comfortable straight away but I still think there’s potential to unlock."

There's one more round of testing remaining in the Catalonia capital before the opener in Melbourne, where Hartley should see plenty of Kiwi support from across the Tasman.

"When I was home in New Zealand every second of third person I ran into told me they were coming to Melbourne and they'd be there supporting me with the NZ flag.

"I think that's going to be quite special for me looking around the crowd and seeing a few flags. I've never had that before and it's the closest I've raced to home in a long, long time."

The Palmerston North native is eager to take advantage of that "hometown" support and get off the mark early, setting his sights on a top 10 finish in Australia with the wider goal of a placing in the top five on the final standings.

"I hope that we're consistently scoring in the points. My first points in Melbourne would have to be the goal."

Hartley shifted his training regime from the track to the weights room during the off-season in a bid to put on some muscle to endure the rigours of a full calendar of racing at the highest level.

"I've tried to cut back on the road cycling and spend a bit more time in the gym, get big for the summer. These F1 cars are a pretty physical drive so I've been working on my neck, all my upper body strength and core.

"I'm feeling very ready, in the best shape I've been in…I can't wait."