Best of Pierre Gasly: F1’s lion-hearted Frenchman

Date published: February 7 2021 - Mark Scott

Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri

Pierre Gasly has had a real rollercoaster of a career so far, but those plunging depths have been superseded by some incredible highs.

As the Frenchman turns 25, we have taken a look back over some of biggest career highlights…

Winning the GP2 Championship

You can’t begin talking about Gasly’s remarkable time in Formula 1 without paying homage to one of the achievements that helped pave his way into the top tier of motor racing.

Driving for newcomers Prema Powerteam under the Red Bull Driver’s Academy and alongside Antonio Giovinazzi, 2016 was a year that provided an opportunity for Gasly to impress his Formula 1 affiliates.

He started strong, taking pole position and achieving a double podium at the season opener in Spain but yet a race win still eluded him.

As a matter of fact, Gasly would have to wait until round five to take his maiden GP2 victory at Silverstone but, in the process, demonstrated exceptional race craft and ability to maximise his team’s strategy.

Building on this success, he went on to take three more victories that season, including a win at the season finale in Abu Dhabi, after a superlative drive from a pole that saw him obliterate the lap record.

At long last, despite setbacks and agonising retirements, it was Gasly’s resilience, partnered with his ability to execute meticulous drives out in front, which saw him be crowned GP2 World Champion by the final race of the year.

Thanks to his impressive performances, it gave Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Helmut Marko all the conviction they needed for him to be the next graduate from their young driver programme.

After spending a year in Super Formula, he was ultimately rewarded with his childhood dream of racing in Formula 1, as he became a full-time driver for Toro Rosso in 2018.

Bahrain 2018

It didn’t take long for Gasly to settle into the big leagues. After a retirement crippled his season opener in Australia, he bounced back at the following race in Bahrain with an awesome drive to secure fourth place.

He started the weekend as he meant to go on, securing an immense sixth position in qualifying, smashing his team-mate Brendon Hartley who could only manage 11th.

Come race day, an awe-inspiring start saw the Frenchman duelling with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in the first few corners before fending off Kevin Magnussen.

Gasly relented, outperforming his car for the full 57 laps and remaining vigilant enough to capitalise on the errors of those around him, putting on a controlled display reminiscent of some of his most impressive GP2 performances.

Although first place didn’t come, the result felt like a victory for himself and the team as he’d secured the best of the rest position, with a sizeable ten second gap to the car behind.

After only a handful of races, this was an unbelievable achievement and one that allowed Gasly to firmly showcase his right to race amongst the top. It seemed that the sky was the limit for this talented young driver.

Spa 2019

You can’t become one of the best without facing adversity and, as we sadly know, that was something Gasly had faced in unprecedented amounts ahead of the 2019 Belgium Grand Prix.

Having been dealt the staggering blow of being dropped from his dream seat at Red Bull, Gasly was then challenged with immeasurable grief following the tragic accident in that year’s Formula 2 feature race that took the life of his childhood friend Anthoine Hubert.

And yet the show had to go on. One can only imagine what was going through Gasly’s mind ahead of the race the following day, as the drivers circled for a minute’s silence to pay tribute to a young life taken far too early.

He lined up on the grid in P15 but that didn’t stop him from executing one of the most courageous performances of the modern era.

Somehow, Gasly managed to put the thoughts of his beloved friend aside to battle out on track with all his might and climb up to ninth to recover some points.

It was a bold drive that was a true depiction of his mental strength and sheer will to put all his troubles aside and drive to the best of his ability.

It was also a race that showed not just Gasly’s sheer pace but his capability to bounce back from even the lowest of lows.

Although in his mind the pain of that weekend will forever overshadow his performance, we’re certain that it was an important step in his return to top form.

First podium finish

From the devastation of that Spa weekend, to the utter elation in Brazil just seven races later. Gasly’s second half of the 2019 season was nothing short of remarkable.

Whilst his team-mate only managed to qualify P16, Gasly put his Toro Rosso in P7 and, much like his former GP2 days, used his aptitude to drive a faultless grand prix.

Taking advantage of the chaotic closing stages, he found himself in second with just one lap to go and the freshly crowned World Champion hot on his heels.

Lewis Hamilton got a much better exit out of the final corner and put on the pressure down the main straight.

To everyone’s astonishment, the pair drag raced to the finish line and Gasly prevailed to clinch the runner-up prize by just three thousandths of a second.

As far as first podium finishes go, there hasn’t been many as alluring and well-deserved as that, it’s safe to say that the Formula 1 community were united in their applause for the Frenchman’s first taste of champagne.

Spa 2020 overtake

There’s something about mental challenges that seem to bring the best out of Gasly. During a ferocious comeback drive at the 2020 Belgium Grand Prix, returning just one year after Hubert’s heart-breaking death, he pulled off an astounding overtaking move.

It was a move so few have managed to perform, through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, arguably Formula 1’s most relentless corner sequence. As Gasly came out of La Source, he found himself side by side with Sergio Perez and, as they approach the monumental climb up the hill, neither would yield the position.

Gasly held steady as the pair duelled through the left-hand kink of Eau Rouge and immediately took the inside line as they swooped upwards through Raidillon at full speed to pull off a move that was as visually stunning as it was absurdly brave.

There was something quite poetic about Gasly pulling off a move like that at the same corner where that disastrous F2 accident occurred the year before.

Monza magic

But all that has come before has acted as a precursor to without doubt the most defining moment of his career so far: the 2020 Italian Grand Prix.

Gasly once again drove to near perfection throughout the entire race and benefited from a Hamilton penalty to inherit the lead but upheld a valiant defence to hold off the attacks of Carlos Sainz in his McLaren.

Once he’d crossed the line to accomplish the unthinkable, there were wild scenes in the paddock and living rooms across the globe as celebrations began for the first French race winner in 24 years.

An astonished Gasly could be heard on team radio expressing his sheer joy.

He said: “What did we just do? We just won the race!”

And as the celebrations continued and Gasly came to terms with his achievement, sitting on the podium alone with his head in his hands, taking in the moment, with the realisation that his dreams had finally come to fruition.

After the tumultuous time he’d had, all the challenges he’d faced throughout his career and the difficult loss of his dear friend, he’d fought through to come out on top.

His career-long resilience had finally reaped the ultimate reward, he was a Formula 1 race winner, he was ‘King of Monza’ and he will always be Formula 1’s lion-hearted Frenchman.

Alex Mclachlan

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