Author: Drew Heaslip Read time: 9m
Pierre Gasly has had a rollercoaster of a time in his thus far three season F1 career. He rose, he fell and he rose again in such a short period of time but don’t call it a comeback because he never really went away and he certainly never gave up the fight!
Gasly arrived at Torro Rosso (now Alpha Tauri) in 2017, replacing Daniil Kvyat for a number of races that season. He then stepped up to become a full time driver for the team in 2018 after Kvyat was dropped from the Red Bull programme. He quickly bagged his first points in F1 that year with a 4th place finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix going on to bank four more points finishes that season and finishing in 15th place. Without the greatest of machinery at his disposal it was a respectable finishing position and he was comfortably ahead of his team-mate Brendon Hartley. People took notice, most notably Helmut Marko and Christian Horner over at Red Bull who’s driver programme he was a part of with Torro Rosso being the Red Bull junior team.
Gasly was a star on the rise and was promptly given a seat at Red Bull for 2019 after the departure of Daniel Ricciardo to Renault. This was quite a step up for a young driver as he now had access to a car that was not championship material but was more than capable of winning races in only his second full season of his F1 career.
Unfortunately for Pierre, his promotion to Red Bull would not give him wings. He struggled from the start to get to grips with the RB15 and was consistently off the pace from his team-mate Max Verstappen. In several races he was actually lapped by Max which was embarrassing for the team given that both drivers had equal machinery. To be fair to Gasly, Red Bull can be a very pressurised environment for a young driver and after Ricciardo’s departure, the team was more or less built around Verstappen. Red Bull viewed Verstappen as their current hope to bring them a championship win which they had not enjoyed since Sebastian Vettel won his fourth championship with them in 2013. Gasly’s poor performance was certainly not going to help them win the constructors championship. By the time they reached the season’s summer break, Pierre had only banked 63 points to Max’s 181. By comparison to Pierre, Carlos Sainz had earned himself 58 points in the inferior McLaren.
Increasingly under pressure and finding it hard to tame the Bull, it must have surely hampered Gasly’s performance and mental state. Rumours began to circulate that he would not see out the rest of the season with Red Bull although Christian Horner insisted in media interviews that they were behind Gasly... right up until they weren’t and they announced his departure back to Torro Rosso for the second half of the season. Alexander Albon, another young driver in only his first season of F1, had filled Gasly’s seat at Torro Rosso at the beginning of the season and would now take Gasly’s seat again at Red Bull for the remainder of the season. It was a game of musical chairs and unknown to anyone at the time, for Albon, it would end up being like sending a lamb to the slaughter. However, that is a story for another time.
At the first race after the summer break in Belgium, Gasly was now back at Torro Rosso and would certainly be feeling a little dejected but in a tragic turn of events, there would be further heartbreak for Pierre when he lost his long time friend and fellow racer Anthoine Hubert who would be killed in a horrific accident in the opening laps of the F2 feature race at Spa. Not only was this the loss of a friend but it is an unnerving time for any race driver when another racer is killed by the sport. This was surely a tough time for Pierre mentally but as he would show the world soon, he is made of some pretty tough stuff. Carbon fibre maybe?
Gasly finished 9th at Spa which was a very respectable placing considering what he had just been through and he would go on to achieve a total of five points finishes. The highlight of his season though would surely be the Brazilian Grand Prix. What turned out to be a chaotic race played right into Gasly’s hands. After qualifying in 7th he took advantage of the retirements of Bottas and both Ferrari drivers as well as that infamous collision between Hamilton and Albon to find himself in a straight drag to the finish line between himself and Lewis. Finishing in P2 by just a car’s length and netting his first career podium, Brazil was a key race is showing the world that he wasn’t for giving up the fight. Gasly was far from finished. On the cool down lap he was heard to remark over the team radio “This is the best day of my life”.
Pierre was retained by Torro Rosso in 2020 now known as Alpha Tauri and little did he know that what he thought was the best day of his life in Brazil would soon be the second favourite day of his life. He managed four top ten finishes across the first seven races and achieved 7th in Austria and Silverstone. Going into the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, nobody would likely have put money on the eventual outcome. An early pit stop allowed Gasly to pass several drivers - who had to wait for the pit lane to reopen after a safety car procedure - and move up to 3rd place. Hamilton had to serve a stop-go penalty and peeled off into the pits, Stroll went wide at the Roggia chicane and suddenly Gasly found himself in the lead of the race!
I believe this was a defining moment in showing the true talent and speed he possesses. Whilst some good luck helped him to make it to the front of the race, Sainz who was now in 2nd place was putting him under pressure with a stellar charge to hunt him down. Lap after lap he held on and remained calm. Sainz closed in, getting closer and closer with each lap. Pierre didn’t flinch and drove the rest of the race perfectly. It would have been easy to let the excitement of a potential first win break his focus but he pushed on and Sainz did not make it easy on him. Pierre won the race on his own merit having held the lead since the 29th lap to the 53rd. He was now the 109th different race winner in F1 history and the first Frenchman to win a race since Olivier Panis at Monaco in 1996, 24 years prior.
What an incredible turn around in form from a young racer who just a year ago had been to the lowest point of his career and had been dealing with the loss of a friend. As it later turned out, he had also had his house in Normandy burgled and trashed while he was at the Spanish Grand Prix. He held his head up high after the Red Bull drama and carried on and that shows the mental resilience he has. He was elated on the top step of the podium at Monza and he just couldn’t take it all in as to what had just happened, even needing to sit on the top step after the other drivers had left and take a quiet moment to himself and savour the feeling. He had just won his first ever Grand Prix and it was only the second time it had ever been done in a “Torro Rosso” since Sebastian Vettel in 2007 at the same venue.
There was a wide assumption after the Italian Grand Prix that Gasly could be going back to Red Bull for 2021 and Gasly himself thought it would be an option. However Franz Tost, the principal of Alpha Tauri dismissed this possibility and retained him to race for his team in 2021. Red Bull said they had never considered Pierre for a return to the team and Pierre himself was quoted as saying he was “surprised” but “not disappointed” that he would not be returning to Red Bull.
I think with another full season at Alpha Tauri on the cards, if his results continue and he improves further then he could be looking at some better options than Red Bull in the future. I can’t see him landing at Mercedes or Ferrari any time soon but with other teams like McLaren and Renault (now Alpine) moving up the grid and the fact that he is still young, maybe there is even a world championship win in his future.
What do YOU think? Are we looking at a future world champion in Pierre Gasly? Let us know!