Pierre Gasly: Grand Prix Winner!
Before we indulge in the action at Mugello, let's remind ourselves of one of the most heart-warming victories in F1 history.
When I wrote my article here last week on Pierre Gasly and his fall and rise through Formula 1 in the last eighteen months, I never would have thought I would be here writing about him as a race winner. As we look towards what will be a very unpredictable and hopefully exciting race weekend with F1 taking on Mugello for the very first time in the next couple of days, let's take a look back at one of the most heart-warming moments in recent F1, Pierre's astonishing win at Monza.
It has been clear from the start of this season that Pierre has had a fire in his stomach and a determination to bounce back. Constant good results and points finishes in the opening seven races once again showed up the capabilities of the Frenchman in Formula 1 machinery. Then came the Italian Grand Prix, a race truly for the ages.
The starting order was familiar. Mercedes led the way with another predictable 1-2 finish in qualifying, while behind in third was McLaren's Carlos Sainz, the Woking team taking the turn to show the superiority of the Renault engine in a straight line after the works team's efforts in Spa. Max Verstappen was sixth for Red Bull while teammate Alex Albon all the way down in ninth in a weekend where it looked like the bulls could be swallowed by the midfield.
As the race got underway, Hamilton shot off into a seemingly convincing lead from Sainz, who had gained a position while Valtteri Bottas has a dismal start to drop to sixth by the end of the first lap. Gasly, starting tenth, had a brief tussle with Albon at the first corner, the driver who replaced him at Red Bull last year, but both escaped without damage.
The final podium had an average age of just 24! (FIA.)
It looked like it would be another Hamilton procession until lap eighteen, when Kevin Magnussen abandoned his Haas at the pit lane entry after an issue forced the Dane into retirement. With the marshals wanting to push the car into the pits rather than pull it off the circuit, race control took the decision to deploy the safety car and close the pit lane, forbidding the drivers from entering whilst the car was being recovered. However, a miscalculation for Hamilton and Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi saw both drivers pit while the pit lane was closed, putting both drivers in the steward's firing-line.
Afraid of the inevitable penalty, Hamilton bolted as soon as the circuit went green but Gasly, who had pitted before Magnussen's issue suddenly found himself in third. However, the race would only last one lap before being red-flagged after a colossal crash for Charles Leclerc, with the barrier too damaged to continue. The 999th race for Ferrari was one to forget, with Sebastian Vettel suffering a worrying brake failure on the fastest circuit on the calendar just six laps into the race. Leclerc was fine, but the mess would take some clearing up.
Under the red-flag, Hamilton and Mercedes learned of his penalty, meaning he would only have three laps after the race restart to serve it or he would face further action. Teams opted for new tyres as the cars lined up on the grid thirty minutes later to take the restart. This was the first time in F1 a standing grid start was used to restart a race, which I thought was fantastic. Hamilton opted to come in on the first lap to take his penalty, while Bottas still struggled in sixth. This left Gasly from Raikkonen and Sainz. For the race win. Astonishing.
It was clear this was going to be a dog-fight to the end, one we were not familiar with seeing in modern F1. Twenty laps of pure racing. No tyre wear, no fuel saving, just two guys hunting each other down for the race win. It was pure euphoria to see Gasly out in the lead, counting each lap off one-by-one as he got nearer to his first win in F1, Sainz slowly but surely closing down each lap. Within the last ten laps, I could feel my heartbeat as the tension got worse and worse with each tour. This was Formula 1 at its absolute, incredible best.
Sainz got within four-tenths to the AlphaTauri at the chequered flag but it would be Gasly that would take his first victory ahead of the McLaren, Racing Point's Lance Stroll in third. The race was almost a week ago now, but I can't stop listening to Gasly's team radio and watching him cross the line to become the first French winner since Olivier Panis in Monaco 24 years ago. I don't think there was anyone that couldn't have been happier for the guy.
I will admit I was shouting Carlos on because initially, I liked the idea of Carlos going to Ferrari next year as a race winner but seeing Pierre on the podium and reflecting on all he has gone through for this moment, you could not take it away from him. It was the perfect end to an incredible story. We all know of Pierre's struggles in the last year or so, so for him to get to this amazing moment was just – right.
Pierre now has proven what he was never able to at Red Bull, prove his worth. He saw his opportunity, he took it and he never looked back. I'm delighted for the guy. It's a proper rags-to-riches tale of why you should never give up in what you do, what you love, what you dedicate your life for because that one moment will come where you will need to be strong enough to take it and if you do it right, you'll be remembered forever for it.
In a race that will go down in F1 history as one of the best in the seventy years so far, Pierre Gasly, from this point in, will be credited as a Grand Prix winner. I was confident the future was bright for this young man, and I am even more so now because he definitely is not beaten yet. I say it's the end of an incredible story but I am wrong because I'm sure it is only the beginning for Pierre.
Pierre, as you come into this weekend at Mugello remember, you have been through some really hard moments in both your career and your life but what you did in Monza, you did us proud. You did F1 and your team proud. You did your friends and family proud and you did Anthoine damn proud. You proved them wrong.
What did you do? You became a Grand Prix winner.
Pierre, alone on the podium, coming to terms with his achievement. What a picture. (FIA)