When Pierre Gasly’s move to Alpine was finally confirmed, there was one target he had in mind – progress.
Having spent his entire career within the Red Bull family, the Frenchman had hit a ceiling. After an infamous stint in the senior team, Gasly returned to Toro Rosso and AlphaTauri in 2019 and rebuilt his career at a time when many others would have faded away into F1 obscurity.
In 2022 and with Gasly at 26 years of age, he was staring at the next phase of his career and decided that to move forward he must move away.
How do you rate Pierre Gasly’s first season with Alpine?
The Sebastian Vettel retirement was the first domino to fall in a sequence that would end with Gasly at Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon and leaving the familiar surroundings that he had called home for the previous nine years.
At the time, it seemed like a sensible move. A promotion back to Red Bull was unlikely and with the team finishing fourth, there was every expectation they could maintain that spot and look to go further up the grid.
Of course, that was not the way it was to be but that was not Gasly’s fault. His early Alpine career was one of misfortune, something he himself picked up when speaking to PlanetF1.com in August. A double DNF for the team in Melbourne was followed by Gasly’s back-to-back retirements at Silverstone and the Hungaroring.
A few weeks later, team principal Otmar Szafnauer had been shown the door, as had veteran Alan Permane. Laurent Rossi, having openly criticised the team once again, was shuffled off to a different project and Pat Fry left for pastures new at Williams.
Come the summer break, Gasly may well have been asking what he had got himself into.
But the mood has shifted since that rainy weekend in Spa. Of the many impressive driver performances this year, it is Gasly’s that has gone most unnoticed. He has scored points in four of the last six races as well as a podium in Zandvoort.
Gasly leads team-mate Ocon by 16 points, he is a point behind Lance Stroll and 25 off Oscar Piastri. Should he overtake the Aston Martin driver, he will be on course for his joint most successful season in F1.
Judging success for Gasly is difficult, then. No doubt he did not leave Red Bull to be scraping for the final points-paying spots and has made it clear his ambition is to fight for World Championships but at least now, there is nothing structurally that is stopping him.
Like many teams, Alpine found themselves with a need for rejuvenation. Rossi had led the team down the wrong path and instead of attempting to fix the problem, he pointed fingers. On the engine side, it is clearly the worst-performing of the four on offer but at least they have now taken steps to rectify that.
In Eric Meignan, Alpine have a former Mercedes and Ferrari chief running their engine department and a strong PU is vital to any kind of sustained title push.
Alpine are also one of just four teams to have their own engine department which should work in their favour provided they can sort out their problems.
Undoubtedly, Red Bull is a better team both sporting and organisationally at the moment but Gasly wanted to be the main man. While he clearly was the senior driver within the AlphaTauri team, he was third overall in Red Bull’s driver hierarchy.
Now there is already an argument to suggest he has supplanted Ocon’s place at the top of the Alpine tree.
There is of course still work to be done. Speaking heading into the season at their car launch, every Alpine staff member suggested their goal was to solidify fourth and maybe take points off the established top three. Instead, they went backwards with both McLaren and Aston Martin overtaking them.
So Gasly’s move from Red Bull can not entirely be vindicated just yet – but when he sits down after the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, he can consider it a step in the right direction.