Pierre Gasly: Redemption Defined

How did the Frenchman go from being demoted to a three-time podium sitter?

Written by Chloe Harper Daly

June 16, 2021

People often choose favorite drivers based on who inspires them through their talent and resilience. For me, that person is Pierre Gasly. His growth in the car and out of it throughout his career is an excellent example to me of resilience and redemption. 

Like many, I wonder how he became the driver we see today. It is without a doubt the highs and lows of his F1 career have been well documented, but we rarely hear about how he started his road to Formula One. Gasly’s 3 brothers, father, and grandfather were all racing drivers, so it is no surprise he inevitably got into motorsport. When Gasly was 10 years old, he started competitively karting. He never won a championship, but he consistently came in second and third. In 2009, Pierre came 3rd in French Championship KF3, SKUSA Supernationals XIII TaG junior, CIK-FIA World Cup – KF3, and Grand Prix Open Karting KF3. In 2010, Pierre came 2nd in CIK-FIA European Championship KF3 and 3rd in Monaco Kart Cup KF3. There is a misconception that to be a good driver, you need to have been winning since your karting days, but clearly, Gasly had an impressive record. 

Photo via @AlphaTauriF1 on Twitter

Stepping up to single-seaters is vital for a young driver’s career. 15-year-old Pierre made his single-seater debut in French F4. In his rookie year, he managed 7 podiums which got him 3rd in the championship. The following year, in 2011, he joined Formula Renault Eurocup with R-Ace GP. He only got tenth place and secured two podiums that season. After that, he competed in Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup with the same team and got a single podium. He won his first championship in 2013 when he drove for Tech 1 Racing in Formula Renault 2.0. Gasly had an impressive season achieving 8 podiums, 3 wins, and 3 pole positions. In 2014, he raced in Formula Renault 3.5 with Arden and ended the season runner-up to Carlos Sainz after achieving 8 podiums throughout the season.

One of Gasly’s last stops before F1 was the all-important GP2 series, or as it is now called Formula 2. Nearly every GP2 champion has ended up driving in F1, and the series important for young drivers wanting to show their potential to F1 teams. Like a few other GP2 champions such as Nyck de Vries and Mick Schumacher, it took Pierre a few years to win his title. Over the course of 3 years, Gasly raced for 4 different teams. He made his debut with Caterham Racing, but he, unfortunately, scored no points and moved to DAMS. At his new team, Gasly scored 4 podiums to get 8th in the championship. The following year, he switched to Prema Racing, home to many GP2 champions, and partnered with fellow F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi. Gasly won the championship in 2016, having achieved 9 podiums and 4 wins throughout the season. 

Childhood friends Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc (red) after Baku GP 2021 (Photo via @AlphaTauriF1 on Twitter)

Unlike most GP2 champions, especially those back by a Formula 1 driver academy, Pierre didn’t go straight to F1. Instead, in 2017 after winning his title, he went to Super Formula in Japan. Super Formula isn’t a standard F1 route, but Gasly is not the only F1 driver who has competed in the series; well-known drivers like Ralf Schumacher and Pedro De La Rosa won the championship. While Pierre didn’t join the list of F1 drivers to have won the series, he came close by ending his season in second place with 2 wins and 3 podiums. In the same year, he made a one-off appearance at the New York E-Prix for Formula E. In his weekend for Renault e.Dams, he had a bad qualifying and couldn’t quite recover during race 1, but he nearly made the podium in race 2 before crashing.

“It’s just the best day of my life.” Gasly said in an interview with Sky Sports, “As a kid you dream about being in Formula One, and then when it happens it becomes the best day of your life and then after you dream about your first podium, to be fair I didn’t think this would happen, coming back with Toro Rosso during the second part of the season.”

There are many roadblocks on a driver’s path in motorsport, but the biggest of them all is arguably funding. While still early into his career, Pierre Gasly was having trouble funding his campaign and needed to find sponsors. Luckily, when he was 13, the FFSA (Federation Française Du Sport Automobile) was looking for a new generation of talented racing drivers aged 10-15.  Pierre was invited to join Team France and moved two-and-a-half hours from Rouen to go to school in Le Mans and train. Here, he trained with other talented drivers like Jean-Eric Vergne, Charles Pic, Anthoine Hubert, and Jules Bianchi. Going to this school meant that he was able to balance studying and racing. He was even provided a trainer and psychologist to help him develop into the driver we know today. He not only had help from the FFSA but also got noticed by Helmut Marko and the people at Red Bull Racing.

Photo via @AlphaTauriF1 on Twitter

Pierre Gasly’s turbulent time at Red Bull is well documented, but his story with them started much earlier than his 2019 season. In 2014, Gasly joined the Red Bull Junior Development Team, and they sponsored him through series like GP2 and Super Formula. He is one of only 4 Red Bull juniors to have won an F1 race along with Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, and Max Verstappen. In 2017, Gasly made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso replacing Daniil Kyvat for several rounds, eventually replacing the Russian after he was dropped. In 2018, Pierre did his first complete season with Toro Rosso alongside Australian Brendon Hartley. In just the second race, Pierre got into P4, which was an incredible feat given the Toro Rosso package that year. Gasly managed 5 points finishes that season, finishing above his teammate, who only scored points on 3 occasions. 

After Daniel Ricciardo made the surprise move to Renault, Pierre Gasly was promoted to Red Bull. The pressure was on given that he was not only sitting in one of the most coveted seats on the grid but that he would be partnering the insanely talented and hard-to-beat Max Verstappen. Gasly had lots of highs but also many lows during his short-lived time at the top team. In his 12 races with them, he scored points on 9 occasions, but that, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to live up to the team’s expectation. They were looking for consistent podium finishes, and even race wins to help them fight for the championship, and Pierre wasn’t providing that. As many would in such a high-pressure team, Gasly struggled with his confidence and self-esteem, shown in Netflix’s docuseries Drive To Survive. After the 12th race of the season, the summer break finally came, and Pierre was assured his seat was safe. On the 12th of August, just over a week into the break, it was announced Pierre would be demoted back to Toro Rosso and be replaced by Alex Albon. Imagine being assured that your seat was safe and that you could use your time off to improve on yourself and then finding out it was all a lie. 

In an article written by Pierre for The Player Tribune in 2021, he mentions that following the announcement, his longtime best friend, the late Anthoine Hubert, told him, “Prove them wrong. Be strong, bro. You’re going to show them you deserve your seat in a top team and prove them wrong.” On the 31st of August 2019, the motorsport world lost a young star, and Pierre Gasly lost his best friend. He says it was “the day his life changed forever.” Anthoine and Pierre became friends at age 13 when they both left home for a school in Le Mans set up by the French Racing Federation for karting kids. The two bonded over a dream to race in F1 and were roommates for years. They became brothers who proved all the people who said they couldn’t make it wrong. On top of being demoted, this loss would be enough to make anyone quit, but Pierre pushed on not only for himself but for his friend. We can never know the whole story of this time in his life, but the strength he showed to the world was genuinely inspirational.

Pierre paying homage to his friend Antoine Hubert at Spa (Photo via @PierreGasly on Instagram)

Since his return to Toro Rosso, now known as AlphaTauri, the “Gasman” has done more than prove himself worthy of being in Formula 1. In 2019, Pierre finished on the podium for the first at Interlagos, where he went from 7th to second. Not only did he finish on the podium, but he defended position from Lewis Hamilton until the chequered flag. His victory in Monza was no doubt fueled by some amazing luck after a red flag restart put him in podium contention, but without his talent and raw speed, he wouldn’t have been able to defend from faster cars for half a race and end up the first French GP winner in 25 years. His latest podium in Baku didn’t require luck at all. All weekend, he consistently ran at the front of the grid, topping the time chart for practice three and qualifying 4th. Even after suffering engine issues, he defended against Charles Leclerc beautifully and kept his podium. He now has stood on every step of the podium and the only Toro Rosso driver to achieve multiple podiums with the team. It’s no doubt that since his return to Alpha Tauri, Pierre’s confidence has grown, and that has only fuelled his results further. 

His redemption from the low of 2019 is a Formula 1 success story, and only better things are coming for the French driver. While his future is currently up in the air, there is no doubt he deserves to stay in the sport for years to come. He will always be a big inspiration and an authentic portrait of determination and redemption. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Chloe and I have a huge passion for motorsports. I want to work in media in the future and I love writing. My favourite drivers are Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo and my favourite team is McLaren. You can find me on Instagram @chloeharperdaly.

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