ABU DHABI: After five years with the Red Bull family in Formula One, Pierre Gasly will suit up for AlphaTauri one last time on Sunday in Abu Dhabi before he makes a move to BWT Alpine next season.
The 26-year-old Gasly, who made his F1 race debut as a reserve driver in Malaysia back in 2017, claimed a historic maiden victory for AlphaTauri in 2020, topping the podium in Monza ahead of Carlos Sainz.
He was promoted to Red Bull Racing for half a season in 2019 before returning to AlphaTauri and is now ready for a new chapter in his career, forming an all-French line-up alongside Esteban Ocon at Alpine.
“I don’t think it has hit me yet,” Gasly said at Yas Marina Circuit ahead of this race weekend.
“Because I’ve just been dressing up in the same clothes the last five years, wearing the same colors and working with the same people. My life hasn’t changed in any way so far. Probably, definitely on Sunday, putting the race suit on for the last time, seeing the guys.
“Next year is definitely going to be a change. I’m not going to be working with these guys. And after such a long time, you go beyond a working relationship. I know most of the guys’ kids, their wives, where they live. We share a lot more of a personal connection.
“It’s definitely going to be special, and I think so far I’ve tried not to think about that side of it too much because I am quite an emotional person and I want to be really focused until the end. But it’s definitely going to be a special race.”
While he knows saying goodbye will not be easy, Gasly is “excited” about this new challenge with Alpine, where he is replacing two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who is taking Sebastian Vettel’s spot at Aston Martin.
While a natural progression for Gasly might have been taking a seat at Red Bull — a scenario that only lasted for 12 races in 2019 — the Frenchman assures he has no regrets over how things transpired.
“Not at all. This was my career and my story with Red Bull. I really believe that whatever was meant to happen happened and it’s meant to be like that,” he said.
“I’ve learned a lot. I think I’m definitely in a much stronger position. I’m a much stronger driver than I was. If I’m the person that I am today, it’s thanks to the experience I’ve had there. I’ve grown up a lot, whether it was on track or off the track.
“And if you ask me, I wouldn’t even change it for anything. I’m 26 now. Every year, I’m getting better. I just know personally I keep getting better and I know the best is yet to come. I’m really grateful for what’s happened. It could have been different, but it happened the way it was and there have been a lot of lessons learned from that. That’s the most important part.”
Gasly’s last campaign with AlphaTauri has not gone according to plan as the team struggled to keep the momentum they had from 2021. He says the car’s chassis has been “massively overweight” and likened it to “running with a backpack.”
He stands in 14th place in the drivers’ standings entering the final race in Abu Dhabi and he has finished in the points just six times in 2022, the main highlight being a fifth-place finish in Baku.
“It was a tricky year because there were obviously very high expectations coming from last season, there was a great momentum, there was change of regulation with the target from F1 to kind of put the film all together,” admitted Gasly.
“Let’s say my hopes to have the best year for AlphaTauri were never as high as they were at the start of the season. I really thought okay, we have our chances, budget cuts are coming in, we have no reason not to outperform all the midfield teams.
“We didn’t start the year in the best shape, but at that time I didn’t really care so much because I knew it will be a race of development through the year. It doesn’t really matter where you start, you just needed to put this development on the car, race after race. And, unfortunately, we didn’t manage to do that.”
A ‘genuine’ relationship
Gasly’s AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda has “Grazie Pierre” printed on his car this weekend at Yas Marina Circuit, and the pair enjoyed one last fun conversation on the team’s podcast “Tauri Talk” on Thursday.
“I will miss the relationship, just the mood outside of racing, in the paddock. It’s just so relaxing, there’s not anything that is stress,” Tsunoda said on the podcast.
“It’s good that we have clear difference between work and outside of work.
“I learned a lot from him in racing,” said the young Japanese, before adding with a laugh: “The outfits, the shoes especially.”
“Your shoe game is definitely better,” Gasly interrupted, to which Tsunoda responded, “The Jordans, right?”
Gasly said the two had a genuine and easy relationship off it.
“I’ve learned a lot, especially in terms of food, I’ve been impressed — I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has such a wide food knowledge, anywhere we go. Whether it’s Japanese, whether it’s Italian. Even in Italy, the guy arrived like two years ago, he knows more places, he knows more food than an Italian that is born and raised in Italy. This is impressive and incredible,” he said of Tsunoda.
A generational shift
This time last year in Abu Dhabi, the paddock was buzzing with excitement over the down-to-the-wire battle for the championship between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, who entered the final race on equal points in the drivers’ standings.
Things are quite different this time around with Verstappen safely defending his title with four races to spare.
Gasly reflected on what the scene was like last season and said he’s looking forward to seeing who finishes second this year with Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez both in contention.
“I must say as a motorsport fan, 12 months ago I was very excited to see how things were going to get down to the last race. It was very exciting for all of us, even though we were part of the race, but we still wanted to see who was going to get on top of this battle,” Gasly told Arab News.
“I think this year is probably more emotional. We have Seb (Vettel) leaving the paddock, I think he’s been a great player and a great icon and figure for all of us F1 drivers.
“Daniel (Ricciardo) is going as well; we’re going to see quite a big change next season with a lot of new faces coming in and a lot of strong personalities and strong characters leaving us.
“There is no championship to play for, but I’m still quite excited to see between Charles and Checo, who is going to be runner-up.
“But at the end of the day it’s definitely going to be quite special with the farewells… we had Kimi’s farewell last year, now it’s Seb’s farewell. So there seems to be a sort of generation change becoming more and more clear in the paddock.”
‘There could be surprises’
Gasly isn’t placing any high expectations on himself but hopes to adapt as quickly as possible to his new team next season, starting with the test run he’ll have with Alpine in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
Alpine are in fourth place in the constructors’ championship at the moment and are expected to challenge the top three — Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes — in 2023.
“Hopefully it changes for good in my position. But at the same time you never know,” said Gasly, looking ahead to the possibility of a reshuffle in grid order next season.
“I talked about the guys as well here (at AlphaTauri), they are telling me their next year’s car is the best one they’ve ever had and they’re going to be fighting at the front.
“It’s normal, when you speak around the paddock, everybody is making huge steps forward. God knows what’s going to happen.
“I hope we’re fighting at the front, maybe we’re fighting for podiums, for race wins, for top five, or it could be a more challenging season. Because usually teams have different designers and they’re switching designers from one season to another.
“So there’s still some carry over from year to year, but there could be some surprises. We’ll find this out start of next year.”
He added: “I’m just very open-minded. I don’t set any expectations on my side on what I’m going to find there (at Alpine).”