Pierre Gasly has arguably been one of the unsung heroes of the 2021 F1 season thus far. The Frenchman has put in some strong qualifying performances for AlphaTauri, without getting as much reward in the races as he deserves.
His luck turned in Monaco where he put in a solid race to earn sixth place, having safely kept Lewis Hamilton behind him for the whole race.
The downside was that he was jumped on strategy at the stops by both Sebastian Vettel (only just!) and Sergio Perez. Nevertheless sixth still represented a solid chunk of points for the Frenchman, especially as hitherto slow corners had not been a strength of the Faenza car.
AlphaTauri’s target this year has to be to beat Aston Martin and Alpine, and mix it with McLaren and Ferrari when circumstances allow. Gasly currently lies ninth in the World Championship, a place ahead of where he finished in 2020. Improving on that over the full season won’t be easy. He has to grab points where he can – and a typical race of survival in Baku this weekend could provide an opportunity.
He has certainly carried over the momentum he built up in 2020, when he outperformed team-mate Dany Kvyat and scored a memorable opportunistic win at Monza.
Despite that strong form he was never seriously considered for the Red Bull seat alongside Max Verstappen that ultimately went to Perez – in essence Christian Horner believes that he had his chance in 2019, before he was turfed out to make way for Alex Albon.
However it was a no-brainer to give him another year at AlphaTauri, in order to provide some continuity and serve as both a benchmark and teacher for rookie Yuki Tsunoda.
Lewis Hamilton trails behind Pierre Gasly at Monaco
Antonin Vincent / DPPI
It’s not been an easy start for Tsunoda, who has shown some signs of the great talent that Helmut Marko and others believe he has, but has made the inevitable mistakes. The Japanese youngster’s stated target is to beat his team-mate, something that he’s struggled to do thus far.
Gasly got his 2021 season off to a great start in Bahrain by qualifying fifth, although his day was ruined by first lap contact with Daniel Ricciardo. He repeated that qualifying performance in Imola, although again things went wrong on race day after the team made a disastrous call on tyres, starting both cars on full wets. Despite that handicap he showed typical tenacity in fighting his way back to seventh, and a decent helping of points.
Portugal was a poor weekend for the team, as the car didn’t like the slow corners in Portimao, but Gasly still started ninth and logged a point in 10th. In Spain the car was again not at its best, and he made a silly mistake at the start, parking his car over the line and thus getting a penalty. However he still managed to earn another point for 10th.
“I was sandwiched in between a four-time World Champion and a seven-time World Champion”
He thus went to Monaco determined to make amends, and to return to the strong one-lap form he’d shown at the first couple of races.
“Clearly the goal for us will be to have a strong weekend,” he said before action got underway. “I think the first two weekends were definitely better than we expected. But we showed some really good performance. And the last two objectively were very tough, Portimao, and also Barcelona, we just made it to the points but in 10th position.
“I think Alpine clearly made a big step forward. McLaren and Ferrari are still there, and also improving on their side, and we probably didn’t improve as much.”
Gasly was quick throughout the weekend, and sixth on the grid was a solid reward, and he overcame that slow corner weakness: “It’s a different track and the car operates in a very different way than usual, so in the end it’s all about the limit, playing as much as you can with the walls, being very tidy, and the lap was very strong, so I was pleased with that.
The race was all about staying out of trouble, and he finished it in good company, behind Vettel and ahead of Hamilton.