Gasly risks wasting his greatest F1 opportunity yet - The Race
Formula 1

Gasly risks wasting his greatest F1 opportunity yet

Apr 30 2021
By Mark Hughes

Pierre Gasly’s scant tally of six points in no way reflects the competitiveness of his 2021 Formula 1 season to date or that he is now in an altogether higher place than at any time in his F1 career.

He goes into any given grand prix weekend expecting to be competitive, to be starting from the first three rows and pitching for podiums. He’s no longer reliant on everything happening to come together in a favourable way to show his potential, no longer the tortured, bewildered soul he was in his abortive half-season at Red Bull in 2019.

The speed of the 2021 AlphaTauri has given him a great tool with which to build on the spectacular foundation of that dizzying victory at Monza last year. That was a result built very much on good fortune – he was running 11th when the crucial red flag came out – and although he capitalised perfectly, it might easily have passed by as just a freak result.

Instead, Gasly stands poised to resurrect his prospects as an elite-level F1 driver who could be in demand by the top teams in the near-future.

But those prospects are at a crucial balancing point right now. For the results in the first two races in no way reflect the reality of his 2021 competitiveness, with just a scant seventh place from Imola on the board from two fifth place starting slots.

At just the time he’s in a position to be slugging it out every race with Ferrari and McLaren – teams with vastly more resource than the junior Red Bull team – he and AlphaTauri between them have dropped the ball in converting that into the hard currency of points.

Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri off Imola 2021

That needs to change – at this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix ideally – if that career balloon is not to deflate again just as it’s beginning to recover from the brutal time in the senior team.

“It’s only been two races,” he says, “but yes, our Sundays haven’t been good enough. We’ve had great Fridays and Saturdays, even better Saturdays than I was expecting actually with those two fifth places on the grid.

“But our focus now has to be extracting all there is from the car on the Sundays because so far that hasn’t been the case.”

In Bahrain it was his error of judgement – nudging the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren in the early laps when a fourth place might have been on the cards. At Imola, the necessary switch to inters from wets on the grid didn’t happen, as Gasly and AlphaTauri ran out of time procrastinating.

“In Bahrain we lost good points. I didn’t expect Daniel to brake that early, we had a little touch with a big consequence. At Imola the tyre choice badly cost us,” Gasly says.

“Looking back, we didn’t have the pace there to have fought with [Lando] Norris and [Charles] Leclerc [for third] but fifth/sixth is where we should have been, so we lost another two points there.

“We cannot afford that. We learned and I’m confident in a similar situation that won’t happen again.”

The hope has to be that the opportunities keep coming, that the sweet-handling, Honda-powered AT02 works as well everywhere as it did at Sakhir and Imola.

Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Imola 2021

“I want to believe it,” Gasly says, all positive energy, as if willing it will make it so. “I feel good in the car, I can really put strong laps together when it counts.

“But it’s important we deliver – now. Because we’re fighting with teams of the budgets of McLaren and Ferrari, they both potentially have more resources to develop the car faster. Not definitely the case this year, but possibly.

“That’s why I really hope we can get the strong results now before they find more performance.”

Portimao is the perfect place to start. “Our package is pretty good all-round,” he says of the car. “The Ferrari looks to have very strong low-speed performance, the McLaren seems to have a lot of load, especially in high-speed.

“Here it’s more about low-speed, so I’m expecting Ferrari to be very strong. But I think we can fight.

“It feels different this year. Now we have more tools to dictate our future. I like that.

“The way we are working, the philosophy of the team, everyone is very grounded, always questioning what can we do better, learning, never taking anything for granted, always looking how to deliver more.

“The win last year gave a big boost to everyone so they could see, ‘OK, these things are possible,’ and you can really feel that energy and it’s great to feel a part of it.”

Life beyond Red Bull?

So, about those future prospects complicated still by already having had a chance in the senior Red Bull team. Even that Monza victory wasn’t enough to return him there, placing a natural question mark about his long term future within the group.

Like Carlos Sainz Jr before him, Gasly probably needs to leave the nest.

“At the moment it’s not my focus,” he insists. “Obviously I want to fight for top positions, get good podiums, win races, fight for championships and I’m doing everything I can to get these opportunities.

“If there’s a will from both sides to work with Red Bull I’d be really happy to do it because they have a really fast car.

“Obviously, it’s really appetising but if there is no will then I’m sure there will be other opportunities.

“That’s something we’ll have to discuss with Red Bull but at the end of the day teams are looking at which drivers are performing. That’s what I have focused on.

Pierre Gasly

“I’m happy with the performance I can provide to the team now. I’ve got to keep working on that.

“If there is a will from them [to go back to Red Bull], I’ll be more than happy to do it.

“If there is no will we’ll have to find a solution about my future.”

The future begins this weekend.

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