Feature image: goodwood.com
Heading into his fifth season in Formula 1, the 24-year-old Frenchman has become a fan favourite following the rollercoaster ride he has endured as a Formula 1 driver. After being dropped by Red Bull Racing midway through the 2019 season, Gasly has driven with a somewhat chip on his shoulder, overachieving massively in the 2020 season which saw him take his maiden victory in the sport in a race which will be remembered for years to come.
Act One: The Opening
We start the story of Gasly’s rise in Formula One in September of 2015, during his rise through the Formula One feeder series ladder. The 2013 Formula Renault Eurocup champion and 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 runner-up was in the middle of his first full season in the then-named GP2 Series and was showing glimpses of his full potential. After picking up podiums in Barcelona, Silverstone and Hungary, Gasly was signed as a Reserve Driver for Red Bull Racing after spending a year as part of the development programme for the junior team.
The following season, the Frenchmen dramatically fought off fellow Prema team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi to win the GP2 championship by only eight points which was helped by wins at Spa-Francorchamps and Abu Dhabi in the latter half of the season. His first real taste of a Formula One Grand Prix then came the year after, when he replaced Daniil Kvyat at the Malaysian Grand Prix. He filled in for Kvyat for five of the remaining six races, only missing the United States Grand Prix due to a clash of calendar with the seventh and final round of the Super Formula Championship.
Despite not achieving a point-scoring finish in his 2017 run out with Toro Rosso, the performances were enough to offer him a deal as one of the Scuderia’s full-time drivers for the 2018 season. After retiring early in Australia, Gasly showed the sport what he is properly capable of. He qualified in P6 in Bahrain and converted it into a P4 on Sunday evening, showing great race pace which scored Honda their best result in F1 since their return with McLaren in 2015.
He finished the season on 29 points, dominating his team-mate Brendon Hartley in the end of year comparisons by beating the Kiwi in the qualifying and race comparisons easily. Silly season then saw the talented Daniel Ricciardo switch sides to Renault, meaning there was a seat up for grabs in Toro Rosso’s more senior team. The logical move was then for Gasly to be promoted into the empty seat, which is where we move to the second act of the Frenchman’s turbulent career…
Act Two: The Downfall
With his promotion into a car which could now fight for podiums and even race wins, this also placed some unwanted pressure on the 23-year-old for results. He entered a team who has one of the biggest talents in the sport, Max Verstappen, and Red Bull were clear in showing who is the first-choice driver.
His time in the brand new 2019-spec RB15 started off horribly, with two crashes in pre-season testing at turns 9 and 13 of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya which didn’t amuse much of the Red Bull management. Whether it was a lack of confidence in the car or if the car was built around Red Bull’s Dutch boy wonder, the incidents in testing was only the start of the bad luck the Frenchman would take in his stride over the course of the next five months.
Gasly’s struggles during his time with Red Bull are backed up by how much he was off his Dutch counterparts’ pace, being lapped by him in several races. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Pierre at Red Bull, as he achieved the fastest laps in Shanghai and Monaco as he took home P6 and P5 respectively. His best result in the Austrian team came at Silverstone, where he took P4 in a race which saw Verstappen and Vettel clash and shake up the positions.
Despite scoring nine points finishes out of twelve for the season, he had failed to score a podium and the pace he was showing didn’t indicate he would be anytime soon. Even though team boss Christian Horner very publicly stated that it was their ‘intention’ to keep Gasly for the remainder of the season, it was announced during the summer break that Toro Rosso rookie Alexander Albon would be swapping seats with the unlucky Frenchman.
After the very tragic events of the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix weekend which coincided with Gasly’s return to Toro Rosso, he spoke about how difficult it was to be dropped by Red Bull and how one of his best friends, the late Anthoine Hubert was one of the first to get in touch with him and remotivate him.
Act Three: The Breakthrough
Back in familiar surroundings, Gasly got his best result of the season at the Brazilian Grand Prix, which he described as ‘the best day of my life’. I’m sure he will have a different answer for that now. Qualifying in P7 and taking advantage of DNF’s from Vettel, Leclerc and Bottas, he stormed to the second step of the podium after holding Lewis Hamilton off on the pit-straight on the very last lap. After the first half of the season being a nightmare, he was slowly starting to wake up.
For the 2020 season, Red Bull decided to stick with Alex Albon as their driver and Gasly would stay in the sister team which was rebranded to AlphaTauri. An average start to the season saw him pick up points in Austria, Britain, Spain and Belgium, consistently beating his team-mate Daniil Kvyat. Next stop was Monza, AlphaTauri’s home race and a track which is at the heart of Formula One.
Everybody knows what happened at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, an underdog classic where the big guns failed to turn up and the day was seized by whoever dared to take it. Pierre Gasly led from the 28th lap all the way to the chequered flag, and it really was an iconic moment for the sport (if you haven’t seen the French commentary of the last lap showdown between Carlos Sainz Jr. and Gasly, please do a quick google search. It will give you goosebumps).
The AlphaTauri driver went on to score points in the five of the remaining races, coming P5 in Portimão and P6 in Bahrain and Germany. Contributing 75 of the 85 points to the Italian Scuderia’s points tally, Gasly steered AlphaTauri their highest points tally since their 2006 birth as Toro Rosso and sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Tipped for a move back to Red Bull, Team Principal Franz Tost quickly dismissed any chance of a move and instead saw Pierre as an important figure in the team who can act as a leader. The French driver agreed, telling the Formula One website “AlphaTauri has great ambitions – and I’m happy to take more responsibilities with the team and try to bring them as much success as they deserve.” With the luck of recent occupants of that second Red Bull seat, AlphaTauri could well be a much better place for him for the future.
[This was originally posted in January 2021 on DriveTribe.com]