How Pierre Gasly, F1's over-performer, just keeps getting better

F1

He's been quick, consistent, and has almost single-handedly put AlphaTauri sixth in the F1 constructors' championship. What next for Pierre Gasly? asks Adam Cooper

Pierre-Gasly-on-the-podium-at-the-2021-Azerbaijan-GP

Gasly's podium in Baku was a season high-point

Red Bull

The sight of Pierre Gasly starting on the front row at the Qatar GP was a reminder of what an impressive job the AlphaTauri driver has done in 2021. If there was an official F1 prize for over-performing, the Frenchman would probably have a pretty good claim to it.

At Losail Gasly was flattered and boosted two spots by grid penalties for Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas, ironically due to yellow flag offences triggered by his own last minute trip across the kerbs that gave him a puncture and saw him coast to a halt on the pit straight.

Nevertheless he qualified fourth in his own right – indeed third was in reach on the lap when he went off – and once again he outpaced the Ferraris and McLarens. Alas the race itself was to prove disappointing, the car using up its tyres and obliging him to stop twice.

He finished out of the points, a rare low during what has otherwise been a mightily impressive season. He’s made the top 10 on 13 occasions, the highlights including third in Baku and fourth places in Zandvoort and Mexico City. He lies ninth in the championship, a clear “best of the rest” behind the drivers from the big four teams.

Lewis Hamilton alongside Pierre Gasly at the start of the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix

Gasly fights for the lead with Hamilton after starting on the front row in Qatar

Jiri Krenek/Mercedes

Almost single-handedly he’s also put AlphaTauri in a solid sixth in the constructors’ table – had rookie Yuki Tsunoda scored a bit more often the team could have been ahead of Alpine in fifth. However the Enstone outfit took a big haul of points with both cars in Qatar, and with two races to go, it appears to be safe.

What has been even more impressive than Gasly’s finishing record has been his consistent strength over one lap. He’s made the top six in qualifying in 14 out of the 20 races held so far, frequently starting as high as fourth or fifth.

It’s been an impressive performance by a guy who was bounced out of Red Bull Racing in the middle of 2019 to make way for then-rising star Alex Albon.

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“It’s been my best year in F1 by far,” says Gasly. “And I’m just really happy with what we have achieved so far with the team. In terms of qualifying performance it’s been unbelievable to really nail every single qualifying through the year, fighting with teams like Ferrari and McLaren, who are on a much bigger budget than we have, with a lot more resources.

“But still as a team we just focused on ourselves, even if we were not in the team championship battle with them, still gave them a hard time all year long in quali, and also the results we achieved in the races. We’re having the most points in a year in the season than the team has ever has ever done in the past.

“Same for myself, I think I’m only three points away from my best season in terms of points in F1 [when he started 2019 with Red Bull].

“I think it’s been really enjoyable to work with these guys, and also to see the performance the car has been able to give me, because I was able to show show my potential fully, pretty much every weekend, and that’s always most satisfying as a driver.”

F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan

A reunion of Horner and Gasly at Red Bull looks unlikely, despite the Frenchman’s pace

Red Bull

Gasly may have fallen out of favour with Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner, but his current team boss Franz Tost rates him highly.

“I always say he belongs for me to the absolute top drivers in F1,” says Tost. “And he made real big progress in the last years, and he’s still learning a lot. And he’s getting better and better.

“He’s setting up the car in a way he likes to drive it, and which fits to him, to his driving style. And the engineers do a fantastic job with him. And therefore this is the result.”

Gasly has been in F1 for four-and-a-half years. Four of them have been spent with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri.

The team was always meant to be a training ground for young talent, so that sort of continuity has been rare in the Faenza camp over the years. It’s clear that the familiarity between team and driver is benefiting both sides.

Pierre-Gasly-on-track-in-the-2021-AlphaTauri

“It has been my best year in F1,” says Gasly

Red Bull

“Pierre is driving fantastically well,” says technical director Jody Egginton. “He’s very consistent, he knows what he wants in the car. And he’s just getting better and better, and he’s got a really solid approach. He’s working really hard, I have to say.

“He knows the car, he knows the team, and he’s pushing himself. I think it’s natural that drivers build up an ability to look at the bigger picture, because they get familiar with certain things, and it means it needs less brain space.

“And he’s doing that. We have high confidence in him, and he’s got a high level of confidence in the guys.”

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Relationships between the team’s drivers haven’t always been smooth in the past – inevitable perhaps when there were two youngsters trying to impress and earn an RBR seat – but as the clear leader, Gasly works well with Tsunoda.

“His approach is really honest and straightforward, and we’re very straightforward team,” says Egginton.

“His approach is helping Yuki as well. I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in other teams, but we’re politics free, and we spread our resources across both sides of the garage.

“We work as a team, there’s no divide across the garage, we worked really hard on that. And he’s always been a big part of that, and Yuki has as well. So it’s not like we’re having to work hard to make sure that knowledge transfers, it’s organic.

“I know it’s a cliche, but it really is. And I’ve been in teams where it wasn’t like that. That’s positive as well. He’s really in a good place, and driving really well at the moment. It’s really impressive.”

Pierre-Gasly-and-Yuki-Tsunoda-on-Monza-banking

There’s no obvious tension between Gasly and Tsunoda at AlphaTauri

Red Bull

Will Gasly ever get a chance to return to Red Bull Racing? His replacement Albon struggled to make an impression alongside Max Verstappen, and despite being given much more time, was dropped at the end of 2020. This year veteran Sergio Perez has been left behind by Verstappen, who is operating on such a high level as his chases his first title.

It suggests that Gasly was not being given enough of a chance to prove himself in 2019. However the team is not noted for giving drivers a second chance, and the word is that for whatever reason Horner is not keen to invite him back.

Thus for the moment the way forward lies with AlphaTauri. Tost is delighted to have an experienced hand on board alongside Tsunoda as we head into the era of new rules in 2022.

“That’s very good, because stability is in F1 the key for success,” says the Austrian. “And I’m looking forward for next year. Because we have with Pierre Gasly, one of the fastest drivers, and Yuki is catching up.

“Yuki doesn’t know the race tracks, but his speed is there, he is now familiar with the car. He understands the technical side much better than at the beginning. And I trust that our engineers will manage to design a good car, and that we are also competitive next year.

“We’re making progress, from the mechanical side, as well as from the aerodynamic side, but we don’t know how steep is the learning curve from the other teams, because this is decisive.

“Of course, we see from our figures that the car is getting better and better apart, but where are the others? And where are we? This is the big question mark. We don’t know it, because it’s a completely new car.”