Pierre Gasly’s redemption story revives Formula 1

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Pierre Gasly produced a redemption story for the ages and joined one of Formula 1’s most select groups with a stunning victory for the Red Bull junior team at the Italian Grand Prix.

Not much more than a year ago, the Frenchman was demoted from Red Bull’s senior team after just half a season, in which he had struggled to get on terms with team-mate Max Verstappen.

Since then, he has delivered a string of outstanding performances. A second place at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, fighting off Lewis Hamilton in a drag race to the line, was as good as anybody – including Gasly himself – thought it could ever get at the team now known as Alpha Tauri. But he topped it at Monza on Sunday.

In doing so, he joined four-time champion Sebastian Vettel as the only man to win a race for the team which began its life back in 1985 as Minardi, and perhaps provided himself some solace a week after the first anniversary of the death of his childhood best friend Antoine Hubert in a Formula 2 race at the Belgian Grand Prix.

On the podium afterwards, after spraying the champagne, Gasly sat down and took a few seconds to let the achievement sink in.

“I had a lot of things in my mind,” he said. “My family, my friends, my brother, all the people who supported me and kept pushing me all the time. You just remember everything you have gone through. And I was just trying to imagine all these people and the tifosi who should be there. It was a very special moment.”

He is a lovely guy, Gasly, a fact reflected in the genuine and heartfelt congratulations that came from throughout Formula 1.

“So, so, so happy for Pierre,” said Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, another childhood friend and rival. “What a drive. He deserves it so much.”

And from Hamilton, who in recent times has taken to playing Call of Duty online with the 24-year-old – and sometimes Leclerc, too – when they have time to kill in the evenings.

“Pierre is just a really nice guy and he has a lot of talent and I don’t think he was necessarily treated fairly at Red Bull when he got demoted,” Hamilton said. “And it’s not easy for a driver when that happens, so I empathise with that.

Pierre Gasly
Gasly is the first Frenchman to win a grand prix since Olivier Panis in 1996

“To then build the confidence up in a not-as-quick team and then come around with some really great performances he’s had this year already with that car and then to get a win, it is not easy.

“Really impressed. I think he has done a fantastic job. He deserves the success and hopefully that creates an opportunity for him moving forwards. Also, he beat the team that demoted him, so it’s gonna hurt for them.”

Ironically, Red Bull’s decision to swap Gasly for Alex Albon at the halfway point of last season has been the making of him, and raised some awkward questions for the team.

Red Bull felt Gasly was in a confidence tailspin that he was not going to pull himself out of. The move could have crushed a weaker character, but Gasly has used it to rebuild his reputation.

He has comfortably out-performed team-mate Daniil Kvyat, while Albon has struggled against Verstappen in much the same way as Gasly did – to the extent that, had Red Bull not already swapped them once, they might even be thinking of a switch now.

“The only thing I have done since they moved me back to Toro Rosso is just to focus on myself and show what I can do when I get the right tools in my hands,” Gasly said.

“It was a tough moment last year. I grew up with four older brothers. As a child, I had to go through quite difficult moments which built me a pretty strong character, and I always had to fight for everything I wanted. I always in some way managed to turn that negative energy into something positive.

“I knew last year what happened – deep inside me I felt hurt and I didn’t feel it was fair to me and I really wanted to make a clear point in that moment that, look, I know I am fast, I know I can deliver, I know I have been fighting for victories for pole, for championships in my early years and that’s what I want in F1.

“I really worked very hard with the team and I knew I had everything in my hands to show my potential.

“I just tried to focus on my own performance, not really looking at the others, taking race after race, looking at what I can improve on my side, what I can improve with the team, just to extract more from myself and from the package and combination.

“Honestly, I can’t be happier with the team I have at the moment, they are giving me everything I need to be competitive. They put all the energy into my performance, which I am really grateful for.”

Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton went up to the stewards during the red flag to ask about his 10-second stop-go penalty

Damage limitation for Hamilton

As the inquest started at Mercedes after the race, team boss Toto Wolff had something to say before he answered the first question.

“This is a loss for Mercedes but it is a victory for the sport,” he said. “There was great entertainment with a call that took the leader out. Seeing those young guys fight it out at the front, Carlos almost getting Gasly, (was great) and they deserved the win.”

Being the team they are, Mercedes will conduct a forensic analysis of what went wrong, which will include instigating a system to ensure they can never again miss something like the pit lane being closed during a safety car period.

They will also look into whether something was wrong with Valtteri Bottas’ car after a messy first lap followed a bad start. Bottas felt something amiss, not only on that first lap, when he radioed to say he thought he had a puncture, but throughout the race, when he felt no grip through right-hand corners and was unable to make any progress. He finished a disappointed fifth.

Hamilton, for his part, drove with his usual skill, not just in controlling the race from the start, but in making up 13 seconds on Gasly while scything up from last to seventh place between serving his penalty and the flag.

With Max Verstappen retiring his Red Bull and Bottas struggling, Hamilton’s championship position was barely affected and he still leads by almost two clear race wins.

“Talk about damage limitation,” he said. “I’m definitely grateful for it.”

A farewell to Williams

The madcap race rather deflected attention from another defining moment in F1 history, the departure of the Williams family from the team founded by Sir Frank back in the 1970s.

The story is well known. The years of struggle, operating out of a phone box at one stage money was so tight, before success came when he joined forces with the brilliant engineer Patrick Head and founded a new team, the accident which left him paralysed from the shoulders down, the periods of domination with Honda and then Renault engines.

Seven drivers’ championships, nine constructors’ titles, 114 Grand Prix victories, the third most successful team in the history of the sport behind Ferrari and McLaren.

This was very much a family team. Frank’s late wife Ginny was instrumental in keeping things going, even keeping her husband alive, after his accident, and in recent years daughter Claire took the reins when Sir Frank was no longer well enough to play an active role.

But the team began to lose its way. Slowly they slid down the grid. Financial struggles grew. Earlier this year, a decision was made to put the team up for sale. Last month, they were bought by an investment group, and before this weekend’s race the family decided to stand aside.

Monza was an emotional and poignant weekend. Not just for Claire Williams, who was clearly fighting back the tears in a video message posted on social media, but for everyone in F1.

Claire was presented with a front wing signed by the entire team. Before the race, she started George Russell’s car and then waved team-mate Nicholas Latifi out of the garage.

“To say I am emotional would be an understatement,” she said, “but I am here and would like to enjoy the moment. It feels like the right time to bow out.

“We have had a great time in it and I think my father leaves a great legacy behind. I will miss the people. We have great relationships up and down the paddock.”

The feeling is mutual and an entire sport paid tribute to Williams’ achievement, none better than one of their great historical rivals.

“All of us at McLaren pay tribute to Sir Frank and the Williams family for their indelible legacy to Formula 1,” the team wrote on social media. “While it is the end of one era, their inspirational achievements will live on through the name of the team.”

Amen to that. – bbc.com

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