Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri renewal is no long-term deal, as the French driver made very clear about his contract extension.
“I have been with this team for five years now and I am proud of the journey we’ve been through together and the progress we have made,” said Pierre Gasly, as his position as an AlphaTauri driver for 2023 was confirmed on Friday.
“I’m happy to remain with my Scuderia AlphaTauri team. This year’s new regulations have created new challenges for us and being able to plan our development with the team for the next 18 months is a good working basis for the future.”
Gasly’s words are striking, in that there are no vague allusions to the future or any pretence that he has any further interest in a long-term project at his current team. Instead, he appears to have put a very firm timeline on the length of time he expects to remain with the Red Bull outfit – perhaps an unsurprising stance to take as the French driver continues to tread water in the midfield.
Given that it’s usually Red Bull making the calls to swap out and in various drivers, it’s also striking that it appears to be Gasly in the commanding position with Red Bull – his form single-handedly rescuing AlphaTauri from ignominy in 2021. But, given the glass ceiling that Gasly appears to have hit with his leadership of AlphaTauri, there’s only one direction for him to go – downwards. And he knows it.
After a few years of utter turmoil for the Red Bull teams with a revolving door of drivers, both teams are now in a good place.
Max Verstappen’s position is unquestioned, while external hire Sergio Perez has overcome a rocky 2021 to become a trusted force in the second seat – much to Gasly’s annoyance, with the door to a re-promotion slammed in his face due to Perez’s re-signing until the end of ’24.
With Yuki Tsunoda also finding form in a much more mature 2022 season, there’s little reason for Red Bull to panic about their junior driver programme too much at the moment. Indeed, given the lack of current F1 opportunities for upcoming drivers, it’s made life much easier for them to deal with offloading one of those said juniors.
Earlier this week, Juri Vips made headlines for all the wrong reasons as the Estonian driver used a racial slur while broadcasting himself playing Call of Duty on an online stream.
It’s led Red Bull to begin an “investigation” into his behaviour, and condemnation from his Formula 2 team Hitech. But, a cursory look at Red Bull’s own media house shows that Vips’ presence has been completely removed – surely a sign that he is set to be dropped by the company once the legal machinations have played out, especially given Red Bull fired a team employee last year for using similar racial slurs via text message.
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) June 21, 2022
It’s perhaps not a hugely difficult decision for Red Bull to make. Vips is in his third year in F2 and has failed to stamp his authority in the championship. Leading with just seven minutes remaining in the Baku feature race, Vips crashed out of the lead having done all the hard work of getting into a commanding position – just weeks after spinning out of fourth place at Imola.
Currently seventh in the F2 championship, Vips trails fellow Red Bull juniors Jehan Daruvala and Dennis Hauger, while Liam Lawson and Ayumu Iwasa have shown promise since stepping up to F2 in 2021 – albeit without much sign of progress in ’22.
Even before tarnishing his and Red Bull’s name with his online behaviour, Vips was doing little to convince Red Bull that he is crucial to their future. With no reason to question Tsunoda’s future at the moment, Red Bull are spoiled for choice at F2 level, even without Vips on the books, should Gasly choose to leave.
It has to be assumed that Gasly is actively seeking an out of Red Bull for the end of the 2023 season, lest his career starts to stutter out. On paper, there were options for next season.
Alpine have an unconfirmed second seat but, if it’s not Fernando Alonso, then it’s highly likely to be reigning F2 Champion Oscar Piastri. Alfa Romeo have Theo Pourchaire waiting in the wings for a slot, while Williams isn’t likely to be an appealing signing for Gasly given it would be a huge backward step even from AlphaTauri.
Should Sebastian Vettel choose to leave Aston Martin and F1 at the end of this year, then it could be Alonso jumping ship.
At Mercedes, both Russell and Hamilton’s contracts come to an end at the same time as Gasly’s. Based on how he’s doing at the moment, assume Russell will be continuing. But could Hamilton’s seat be up for grabs if he chooses to walk away?
Mercedes’ junior programme is far less comprehensive than Red Bull’s, with Frederik Vesti seemingly the lead candidate to make the jump to F1 – however unlikely that it would be directly into a Merc works seat.
It’s surely Daniel Ricciardo’s seat that Gasly is eyeing up, given his steadfast wording of “18 months” left of working with AlphaTauri.
McLaren boss Zak Brown has made it clear that Ricciardo has failed to meet the expectations of the team during his season and a half with Woking. With Lando Norris locked down on a long-term deal, and proving more than capable of leading the team, almost any driver of any sort of promise wouldn’t be a big gamble for McLaren to take – a sad indictment of how far Ricciardo’s stock has fallen.
That recent public tete-a-tete between Ricciardo and Brown in the media was likely the reason behind the stalemate in the driver market for 2023. While there may be “mechanisms” in place to oust Ricciardo if McLaren really wanted to, the Australian could be doing just enough to meet the required targets, or the cost of buying him out may simply be too expensive to justify the swoop for someone like Gasly.
Speaking over the Baku weekend, Gasly wouldn’t be drawn on whether he wants a move away from the Red Bull umbrella at the end of his contract.
“The right decision will be made at the right time,” he said.
“I know why I’m here. I know what I want to achieve in Formula 1. I’m a competitive guy and the only thing that matters to me is performance. We are F1 drivers here to fight for wins, poles, and championships and that’s what drives me every single day.
“That’s why I’m pushing myself beyond my limits every single time. At the end of the day, that’s what will make the difference. But as I say, for now, it’s a matter of performing with AlphaTauri and we’ll take the decision at the right time.”
With the conversation about Ricciardo dying away in recent races as the door to McLaren seemingly shut, Gasly has put pen to paper for another season at AlphaTauri. Until next year, perhaps?