Luck can be the most elusive part of a driver’s arsenal.
With it, points, podiums, wins or even championships could be on the cards. Without it and it can seem like the world is collapsing around you.
Having made the swap to a new team at the start of the year, Pierre Gasly would have wanted to hit the ground running.
And yet, stumble after stumble saw him reach the summer break in a low moment. Pre-Zandvoort, Gasly labelled the 2023 season as his most unlucky in Formula 1.
A sprint podium in Spa was little consolation for a year that had incorporated multiple DNFs and left him trailing his team-mate.
In his hour of frustration, Gasly welcomed the summer break.
“Give me two days and I will forget how to drive,” he exclusively told PlanetF1.com inside the Alpine hospitality, days out from the Dutch Grand Prix.
But even if Gasly was able to cleanse his mind of racing, the competitive nature was still here.
“I’m super competitive so I need competition in my life,” he said. “After a week already I was like ‘fuck, I want to go on track with these guys’ you know, get my elbows out.
“It’s such a unique feeling that you have that you miss it very quickly.”
He did find his competitive fix, spending time on the beach challenging his friends to endless amounts of games but that Formula 1 itch was beginning to become overwhelming.
The Frenchman may have wondered what he was returning to. Alpine had left the first part of the season in disarray. A team principal and senior figure heading out the door, behind their rivals and even teams they would have thought beneath them, their 100-race plan end goal further away than ever.
Gasly himself was not where he wanted to be, behind Esteban Ocon and languishing in mid-table, a position he may have been happier in with AlphaTauri, but he had loftier ambitions when he made the move to Alpine.
“I think for sure it doesn’t reflect in a fair way the performance that we showed,” he says, recalling the 12 races that had come before Zandvoort. “But not to an extent which will change massively the bigger picture of where we stand in the team championship.
“They’re obviously big results that we missed like Australia is the obvious one, missing out on the podium. We missed a couple of P8s, there were some other issues.
“Obviously kind of frustrating because when you come into a new team, you want things to come your way. It doesn’t but at the same time, I’d rather get the bulk out of the way now.
“We are not up to the expectations that we’ve set for ourselves at the start of the year but it’s surely going to end at some point. So just got to keep my head down and just focus on trying to push the team forward and focus on what I can bring to them.”
Even as Gasly spoke the words, he may not have predicted that change of fortune would have come so quickly.
Zandvoort was the ultimate test of a driver’s luck. Daniel Ricciardo found his was out, a broken hand causing him to miss the race and possibly several more. His McLaren replacement Oscar Piastri once again found a poorly timed Safety Car compromised his race. George Russell’s race was compromised early on, Lando Norris left far behind his P2 starting spot.
A chaotic race with rain at either end, Max Verstappen’s P1 may have been assured but for the other 19 drivers, anything was possible.
But even still, Gasly would have thought his luck had still not changed early on. 0.1 km/h over the pit lane speed limit cost him a five-second time penalty and any realistic chance of a high points finish in ordinary circumstances.
But this was no ordinary race. A looming storm sweeping in from the North Sea, the kind that had plagued the weekend throughout and threatened another roll of the dice. Soon, the heavens opened. Rain lashed onto the beaches of Zandvoort as the fans reached for their brightly coloured ponchos. On track, all the remaining drivers dived into the pit lane.
A Zhou Guanyu crash would bring out the red flag and the racers faced a nervous wait for the final seven laps. Gasly resumed proceedings in fourth place, a beneficiary of pitting for inters early in the race and some excellent defending from the attacking Carlos Sainz.
But Gasly’s luck would truly come in when P3 Sergio Perez was investigated for another pit lane infringement. Like Gasly, Perez had broken the limit but unlike Gasly, the Mexican was 0.8 km/h over the mark. A five-second penalty followed and from there, Gasly’s task was simple.
A three-second gap became two. Gasly’s foot pushed hard to the floor, mere centimetres above the wet and treacherous surface below. With Fernando Alonso preventing Perez from extending the gap, the finish line came too soon for the Red Bull man but not the one that had once raced in those colours.
“Honestly, I just loved that phase,” he would tell Sky Sports F1, still moist from the champagne. “Because when you’re fighting for such positions, it’s so much more exciting and enjoyable because you know what’s on the table. I was loving every single lap.
“Also in these conditions. We went from slicks to inters then slick tyres to inters on a wet track then on dry track. I think we went through all conditions which is pretty unusual, but really challenging in terms of driving skills and that was fun.
“I really enjoyed that race and to finish with a podium is just massive satisfaction.”
It was a satisfaction long in the making. A difficult chapter closed and a door opened to the new possibilities.
But even in his moment of triumph, the monkey finally shaken off his back, Gasly was not one to forget who had helped get him there.
“You can’t do anything without the car, you can’t do it without the driver, you can’t do it without the pit stops,” he said. “It wasn’t just me, there was a lot of hard work from all the guys whether it’s here at the track or back at the factory with the engineers.
“We were really keeping our heads down because the start of the year has been quite unfortunate, I was always involved in some unfortunate incidents which cost us quite a lot of points and build some frustration.
“But at the end of the day, you’ve got to keep looking forward, keep moving forward, keep improving what you can improve. I think for all the guys, it’s a massive boost of motivation.
Gasly has been a driver who has overcome more hardship than most and maybe, just maybe, luck is finally on his side.