By Tom Leaman | Head of Digital Media
On Sunday, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly achieved a shock victory at the Italian Grand Prix after one of the most exciting races in recent memory. The race, which took place at the famous Monza circuit, saw Formula 1’s ‘big three’, Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari, struggle with penalties and retirements.
By taking the chequered flag in Italy, 24-year-old became the first Frenchman to win a Grand Prix since 1996, while the win was AlphaTauri’s first since Sebastian Vettel’s victory at the same circuit in 2008.
Despite qualifying in tenth, Pierre Gasly found himself in third after Kevin Magnussen’s retirement led to the safety car being deployed, before Charles Leclerc’s high-speed crash on the exit of Parabolica brought out red flags to temporarily halt proceedings.
Gasly, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll were helped out by poor performances from the traditional big hitters, with Mercedes hampered by Lewis Hamilton having to serve a 10-second stop-go penalty for entering the pitlane when it was closed.
Though AlphaTauri were lucky that other teams underperformed and that their pit strategy brought Gasly in moments before the safety car chaos ensued, the Frenchman still had to show consistency and composure over 24 laps to see off Sainz, who crossed the line only half a second behind him.
Victory at Monza is another twist in a career of incredible highs and devastating lows for Pierre Gasly. Few other drivers have shown as much fighting spirit to justify their place in the sport, making it hard to say that his success isn’t well-deserved.
Pierre Gasly’s career so far
In his three seasons in F1, Pierre Gasly has had to overcome more adversity than most drivers will in their entire career.
Speaking after his remarkable win at Monza, Gasly said: “I’m not realising what is happening right now. It was such a crazy race and we capitalised on the red flag.
“The car was fast and I have been through so much over the last 18 months.
“The first podium last year [in Brazil, November 2019] I was already like ‘wow’ and now my first Formula 1 win in Monza. I struggle to realise [what has happened].
“I have got no words. This team has done so much for me. They gave me my first opportunity in F1 and my first podium, now they are giving me my first win.”
Gasly, who used to race in the all-electric Formula E championship, made his F1 debut for Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s second team) at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix as a stand-in for Daniil Kvyat.
In his first full season in 2018, Gasly gained five top-10 finishes for Toro Rosso and finished comfortably ahead of his team-mate, Brendon Hartley, in the Driver’s Championship, demonstrating his obvious potential.
His performances at Toro Rosso were enough for Red Bull to promote him to their senior team to partner Max Verstappen, though Gasly was never really given enough time to adjust to his new surroundings.
Gasly only lasted 12 races at Red Bull, during which he caused €2 million worth of damage in pre-season testing, only out-qualified Verstappen once and gained 118 points fewer than his team-mate.
Red Bull, clearly disillusioned with their second driver, rather unceremoniously demoted him back to Toro Rosso in exchange for Alexander Albon, who was still in his rookie season at the time.
Soon afterwards, Gasly had to come to terms with the loss of his friend Anthoine Hubert, who lost his life at the age of 22 in a tragic accident at last year’s Formula 2 feature race in Belgium.
One day after Hubert’s death, Gasly raced for Toro Rosso at Spa Francorchamps, saying: “I think it was for sure the most emotional pre-race I’ve ever had. Because you’re not ready at 22, 23 years old, to live this kind of moment, to lose one of your best mates”.
“I’ve grown up with this guy since I was seven in karting, we’ve been roommates, we’ve lived in the same apartment for six years.
“I’m still shocked. I don’t realise how it can go so fast. It’s just terrible”.
Ever since, he and Charles Leclerc, who also grew up racing with Hubert, have been open about the impact Hubert’s death has had on them and their desire to perform well in his memory.
It’s these setbacks – including a burglary he suffered a little under a month ago while he was racing in Spain- and Gasly’s ability to overcome them that have made his recent achievements so remarkable.
At the end of last season, Pierre Gasly gained his first podium in F1 in Brazil, finishing just 0.1 of a second ahead of Hamilton to claim second place.
This season, Gasly has continued to perform at a level nobody would have predicted, particularly in a car that is simply not supposed to be challenging the superior Red Bull RB16.
He currently sits in eighth place in the Drivers’ Championship ahead of some big names, including four-time World Champion and current Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel. Another ex-Red Bull team-mate of Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, is also behind Gasly in the standings.
Thanks to his win on Saturday and Red Bull’s forgettable weekend, Gasly is now only five points behind Albon, the driver seen as a safer pair of hands by Christian Horner and the Red Bull hierarchy.
Gasly is now on par with Verstappen for first-place finishes this season, while Albon is still yet to achieve an F1 podium (though this can be attributed at least in part to Lewis Hamilton, who has twice collided with the Thai driver at races he had been performing well at).
Were Red Bull wrong to drop him so soon? Yes, very probably. However, Gasly has thrived in the AlphaTauri set-up and has continued to prove his doubters wrong this season.
There is still one seat up for grabs at Red Bull next season, though Gasly could do with another season at AlphaTauri to maintain his current form in familiar surroundings with a car he knows he can perform well in.
For as long as the second Red Bull seat is unfilled for next year, there’s no doubt that the comparisons between Albon and Gasly will continue, at least until one or both of them put pen to paper on a new deal at Red Bull or AlphaTauri.
While this is inevitable, we ought to instead savour Gasly’s achievement and its wider ramifications in a sport that is facing criticism for being ‘too boring’ for spectators amid years of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari dominance.
On Sunday, Gasly ended AlphaTauri’s run of 4,371 days without a win; he ended France’s 24-year wait for a Grand Prix win, and more importantly for the sport, he was on the first podium since 2012 not to contain a driver from the ‘big three’.
Above all of this, Pierre raced for Anthoine and made him proud.