Pierre Gasly: F1's Heartwarming Story
A story of pure emotion and redemption. Pierre Gasly's story in F1 so far.
Following a sport such as F1 can be unique. It can be unique because you form such solid relationships and admiration for people you barely know or have met. You see drivers enter the sport, move up the pecking order, take that first podium or win, all the good and bad moments and then the eventual step-down and break away from the sport. It's an amazing journey of twists and turns. Each driver has their own unique story of their career, played out through the years like a story. However, no driver has had such a story as Pierre Gasly in recent years.
Coming through the junior formula to F1, Pierre was your typical young driver. Winning the 2016 GP2 championship, the young Frenchman dabbled in F1 during the second half of 2017 with Toro Rosso alongside a campaign in Japan's Super Formula, coming within half a point of that particular title. He also made a surprise appearance in that year's Formula E championship at the New York rounds, taking the seat of the WEC-bound Sebastian Buemi at the Renault eDams team.
Holding back Nico Hulkenberg in Monaco, 2018. (FIA.)
Then in 2018, his first full season in Formula 1 became a reality with Toro Rosso, and Gasly impressed. In a transitional year for Toro Rosso taking on the Honda power unit for the first time, Gasly soon had the eyes of the paddock on him after a superb fourth-place finish at that year's Bahrain Grand Prix. A further seventh in Monaco and sixth in Hungary that year amongst other strong results convinced Red Bull that he was the man to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo, after the Aussie shocked the team with news of his departure to Renault at the end of the year.
Like so many drivers before him, 2019 would be the year to make or break Pierre Gasly. Partnering Max Verstappen in the main Red Bull team, he knew he now needed to perform. His season did not get off to a great start after a big crash during pre-season testing in Barcelona, while the first half of his season was hampered by incidents and a much slower pace compared to his teammate. Poor Pierre was struggling to get to grips with the much more complicated RB15, and by the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, Red Bull had enough. Pierre was demoted back to Toro Rosso in exchange for up-and-coming rookie Alexander Albon.
A very brutal blow for a driver just looking for his much deserved big break and something the media definitely weren't shy of reminding him throughout the weekend at Spa. However, the worst was yet to come on that weekend for poor Pierre Gasly.
After the F1 grid had finished their qualifying session for Sunday's race on the iconic circuit, Formula 2 were taking the start of their feature race. On this grid was a very personal friend of Pierre's, fellow Frenchman Anthoine Hubert, a Renault Academy driver competing for the BWT Arden team. Pierre and Anthoine were inseparable, having grown up together, lived together and competed together since they were young children. Two young boys who had grown up with the dream to someday compete in F1 together. One of them had already made it, and the second was well on his way.
Pierre and Anthoine were the best of friends. (Reddit.)
However, on lap two of Formula 2's Feature race, tragedy of the saddest degree struck. The world watched in shock as a massive accident occurred between Hubert and the Sauber Junior Team driver of Juan Manuel Correa. The paddock held its breath and hoped for some good news but it was not to be, and it was soon confirmed that the crash had taken the life of Anthoine. The paddock was shaken to its core over the loss of such a bright and promising young driver, but Pierre lost so much more, he just lost his best friend.
With both of these blows coming on the same weekend, one couldn't have blamed Pierre for hanging up his helmet there and then. However, determined to show his resilience, Pierre fought back in the only way he knew how. A ninth place on his first race back with Toro Rosso the following day was the first of five points finishes throughout the second half of 2019, until Gasly's faith and hard work was finally awarded.
Taking advantage of the Ferrari collision and Lewis Hamilton's coming together with Albon, Gasly powered through and very bravely held off Hamilton as the pair went wheel-to-wheel on the run down the main straight to the chequered flag to take second for Toro Rosso, his first podium in F1. Understandably, Pierre was on top of the world with the result, and there wasn't a person that could not be happy with his achievement.
This allowed Pierre to come into 2020 as a completely different driver. With COVID-19 completely changing the face of the 2020 F1 season, Pierre remained un-phased, scoring four top-ten finishes in the opening seven races of the season, his second full season with Toro Rosso, now known as Scuderia AlphaTauri. Then came the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and nobody expected what was to become of Pierre.
Taking advantage of an early tyre change and a red-flagged race after Charles Leclerc's smash at the Parabolica corner, Gasly soon found himself in third at the restart. After second-placed Lance Stroll ran wide at Del Roggio chicane and leader Hamilton was slapped with a drive-through penalty for an earlier pit lane infringement, Gasly found himself in the lead of the race.
Despite McLaren's Carlos Sainz hunting him down as the pair drew closer to the chequered flag, Gasly held firm to take his first Grand Prix victory, much to the cheers of almost the whole F1 community. It was the first French victory since Olivier Panis' win in Monaco in 1996, and AlphaTauri's first win since Sebastian Vettel's Monza masterclass in the wet twelve years prior. Despite all the tension, all the blowbacks, all the internal suffering, Pierre Gasly proved everybody wrong. Pierre Gasly was a Grand Prix winner. All just after the one-year anniversary of the loss of Anthoine.
Fast forward to 2021 and Pierre Gasly is very much comfortable at AlphaTauri. Despite not having the best start to the season so far, the new AT02 has been showing glimpses of extraordinary pace and I've no doubts that good results are sure to come for Gasly and new teammate Yuki Tsunoda. Who knows if Pierre can win another Grand Prix or challenge for a title in the future, but he recalls a text sent to him by Anthoine after the news of his Red Bull demotion broke urging to 'prove them wrong', and with his impressive comeback, he did just that.
For me, Pierre's story of the lowest lows to the highest highs is one full of inspiration and an epic F1 heartwarmer. It's a journey we've been on with him since the beginning and it's a definition of never giving up. It's was a journey of happiness, heartbreak, emotion and eventual redemption, and although that story is not yet over, Pierre Gasly is now a driver of legendary proportions, and a driver of pure determination and inspiration. Pierre Gasly is why we watch Formula 1, and I cannot wait to see what is to come next for this promising young man.