The tide is high, HMS Gasly sails again

Know what? I’m not even going to start this piece with a touching build-up. P2. A Toro Rosso, gleaming with blue, red and glorious silver in the Sao Paulo sunlight, crossed that Interlagos finish line in second place. The man himself leapt out of his machinery, lungs burst, cameras attentive, to let the world know they just witnessed reality, no mirage – his two fingers were raised to make it abundantly clear. Pierre Gasly has his name in lights again.

Anyone who knows me, is even so much as the slightest attentive to what I stand for, knows this isn’t so much an objective piece detailing a reputation rebuild for the ages as an unashamed love letter. It’s one born of anguish for a man who can cure me of my own at the drop of a blue Toro Rosso cap, joy for a fresh talent batting the jokes and speculation for six and above all else, well, it being my time to be this emotional.

Listen to the team radio, the full one. I implore you, if you already haven’t. It’s loud, it’s booming and it’s the two most poignant minutes of just what that result means to Pierre. It’s the safeguard from a trophy-less career but also so much more. It’s when the boxer has to summon up the strength among the lights of a stadium, and the imploring from a soliciting crowd to get back up. It’s the hit that brings them back into it.

For a few out there, this was probably a textbook if moment, a case of what could be possible if the right chips fell down. To me it was the inevitable, it was only a matter of when. If we’re taking this boxer analogy and running with it, Pierre’s one of the most punch-drunk sportsmen around and is still standing. He’s a warrior.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

From the moment he first came to my attention on that debut GP2 weekend in Monza, 2014, it’s been a non-stop barrage of challenges, all of which he’s risen to with aplomb. A 2015 season in the series, his first full shot, concluded with level-pegging with his DAMS teammate Alex Lynn, taking none of the team’s two wins. 2016 was a perfect retort – now at PREMA, Pierre took five poles and three out of three at the season’s end, four wins and most importantly the last GP2 championship title in history.

Then, Super Formula. Tasked with proving his mettle against sage, experienced competitors well-versed in the art of Eastern racing, Pierre was a Suzuka-bound typhoon away from potentially winning the series, only losing out by one point to then-one time champion Hiroaki Ishiura. Does ‘losing’ feel like the right word? It feels like a victory to me, given the circumstances.

And we know the story of Pierre’s first stint at Toro Rosso. That sterling drive in Bahrain, one that saw him finish fourth with an almost Prost-esque controlling drive among the midfield in only his seventh Grand Prix, kick-started a season which bestowed other stand-out results; seventh in Monaco, sixth in Hungary, more points in Belgium and Mexico all with a Toro Rosso package spearheaded by a Honda engine going through severe development gains and the spate of penalties that come with.

That was the smooth among the rough, woven together like different colours of yarn in a sewing machine. But this year is one I’ll hold above the rest as his most heart-warming, inspirational seasons – for those twelve races with Red Bull, the sewing machine was sparking, threatening to blow while the needles couldn’t be found anywhere. And once the thing finally powered down, he set about fixing it again… and he’s succeeded.

32 points in 8 races. Average finish of 8th. Points in 75% of Grand Prix, Q3 appearances in 50%. Amongst it all, Pierre has had emotional hardships to deal with that no-one should ever face – the loss of a close friend the racing community will always sorely miss in Anthoine Hubert, a man whose colours adorned Pierre’s helmet in Monza, whose memory was right up there on that Interlagos podium and whose legacy will always shine bright in his heart.

A demotion to Toro Rosso which meant Pierre had to adapt mid-season to different circumstances and changed expectations, with a mission already thought complete by 2018’s end back on the to-do list, along with such personal circumstances, has been handled with the utmost capability and dignity. Pierre’s been fighting back against the tide for months now, and that glorious Sunday in Sao Paulo was above all else the validation of his hard work.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 17: Second placed Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 17, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

And that result was everything I dreamt it would be and more. Hearing the sheer unbridled euphoria of a man who’d had to stomach so much pain over the course of 2019, seeing the special bond he and his Faenza squad be beamed out on show to the world and knowing that as tough as times may get, he’ll always have that one special moment holds stratospheric meaning to me. As I stated before, this is my personal love letter and not a showing of balance – this was the time I finally got to hear the man I’ve poured my heart into for over five years utter the words ‘this is the best day of my life’.

And I felt it, because in that whirlwind of post-race emotion it honestly felt like the only words present in my brain were emanating from Pierre’s mouth. It felt like mine too. It felt like vindication, for the both of us. It felt like I’d have the most wonderful reference point to look to and remember every time I hit the hard times in life. It felt, for the want of a flashier term, so damn freakin’ good. The pain of 2019 is fading away, the belief is stronger than ever, and there’s a boatload of joy ready to be enjoyed in 2020. HMS Gasly is sailing again.

 

[Featured image – Mark Thompson/Getty Images]

Brazilian GP: Albon tops FP1 despite crashing out, as Ferrari lead FP2

FP1 – A Damp Day on Track

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – NOVEMBER 15: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 15, 2019 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Red Bull’s Alex Albon set the fastest lap in FP1, before bringing out the red flag to end the session after crashing out on slicks in drying conditions.

He topped the session with a 1:16.142, set shortly before he hit the wall at Juncao, with Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:16.693 and Sebastian Vettel in third with a 1:17.041. However, the morning’s session looked unlikely to be representative as the session started off wet and dried out slowly, with slick tyres not being seen until the final five minutes of the session.

The adverse conditions led to limited running, with four drivers – including Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – not setting timed laps. Nicholas Latifi took the place of Robert Kubica, the driver he is expected to replace at Williams in 2020, in his sixth FP1 session of the season.

The session got off to a slow and soggy start, with Carlos Sainz the only driver to set a lap time in the early stages, with Lewis Hamilton and then Charles Leclerc the first drivers to emerge on intermediates just over the half-way point in the session.

With five minutes remaining, a flurry of cars came out on slick tyres, with both Red Bulls suffering problems in the damp conditions, but several drivers found the conditions challenging. Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat both suffered spin, and the session was brought to an end when Alex Albon hit the barriers.

FP2 – Ferrari on Top

GP BRASILE F1/2019 – VENERDÌ 15/11/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

By the time FP2 came around, conditions had improved, and despite reports of raindrops mid-session, the rain stayed away enough to avoid a switch to intermediates.

The two Ferraris topped the timesheets, with Sebastian Vettel in first with a 1:09.217. Leclerc, who has a ten place grid penalty owing to an ICE change this weekend, set a 1:09.238 in second. Verstappen was third, and the Mercedes cars of Bottas and Hamilton were fourth and fifth respectively.

The midfield battle looked as close as ever, with a little over four tenths of a second separating the Haas of Kevin Magnussen in sixth and the Racing Point of Lance Stroll in 17th.

The session was red flagged early on as Robert Kubica’s Williams hit the wall before he was even able to set a lap time, scattering debris all around and likely creating some headaches for Williams, who have been beset by a shortage of parts this season.

Verstappen set the early pace before being usurped by the Ferraris at the top of the table, while Valtteri Bottas created some hairy moments for both teammate Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, failing to move out of the way as they came past on flying laps. Bottas and Leclerc also had a close shave in the pit lane, but the stewards deemed an investigation unnecessary.

Pierre Gasly parked up with 20 minutes to go with a probable engine issue, his car exuding plumes of smoke. The other Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag to end the session, with Kvyat coming to a stop in the same place as Albon in FP1. However, Kvyat’s incident was likely to be mechanical as his dash appeared to cut off, sending him off the track.

 

[Featured image – Scuderia Ferrari Press Office]