Why Gasly needs to have a strong home Grand Prix
This weekend will be the home Grand Prix for two drivers but for one it could be the most important race of their season.
Pierre Gasly stepped up to Red Bull at the start of the year, replacing Daniel Ricciardo who made a surprise switch to Renault, but his season has not gone the way he or Red Bull would have wanted.
Gasly joined the Red Bull Junior Programme in 2014 after impressing in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 where he won the 2013 title.
For 2014 the Frenchman raced with Arden Motorsport in Formula Renault 3.5 and finished runner-up to fellow Red Bull Junior driver, Carlos Sainz Jr.
That season showed Gasly had the potential to race in Formula 1. In addition to Sainz Jr, other drivers in that championship who have gone on to race in F1 include Roberto Mehri, Sergey Sirotkin and Will Stevens.
Gasly moved on to GP2 for 2015, raving with DAMS, achieving a best finish of second and ending the season eighth overall in the standings.
2016 was the year Gasly’s career really started to take off. He beat Italian Antonio Giovinazzi by eight points to win the GP2 championship and landed himself a test with Red Bull in addition to a reserve driver role with the team.
All of a sudden Gasly was one to watch. Many were keeping a keen eye on his career, especially at a time where Toro Rosso were struggling with their driver line-up.
Gasly moved across to Japan for the 2017 season and after a difficult first round, he got his act together and got himself in the fight for the title.
Having seriously impressed, Toro Rosso decided to call him up to their race team for the Malaysian Grand Prix, replacing Daniil Kvyat.
Many wondered what this would mean to Gasly’s title challenge in Super Formula and after much deliberation it as announced that he would miss the American Grand Prix so he could complete his Super Formula season.
The Frenchman earned respect from a number of people for making the decision to step away from an opportunity to compete in a Grand Prix so he could fight for a title elsewhere but unfortunately, this became a wasted experience as the final Super Formula rounds at Suzuka were cancelled due to bad weather caused by Typhoon Lan.
Gasly returned for the final three Grand Prix and impressed, earning himself a seat with Toro Rosso for 2018.
Having got himself a full-time race seat in Formula 1, now was the time Gasly had to prove he was capable of one day racing for Red Bull.
He immediately impressed in the second race of the 2018 season at Bahrain. He qualified an impressive sixth place and finished the race in an incredible fourth place while his teammate Brendon Hartley was the last classified finisher.
Gasly out-qualified and out-raced Hartley all season and finished the year with 29 points to his teammate’s four.
When Red Bull found out they had lost Ricciardo to Renault there were many questions about who they would replace him with.
Although Gasly had impressed, he didn’t have the same impact as Max Verstappen. Nonetheless, Red Bull decided to call him up to the senior team for 2019.
Everyone knows how ruthless Red Bull are with their drivers and a few poor performances can lose you your place in Formula 1 – just ask Kvyat.
Now in a top car Gasly has nowhere to hide, however, the results have not gone his way.
He has been outshone by Max Verstappen in every Grand Prix and cannot get close to the Dutchman in qualifying. Again in races, Gasly has made no impact and is currently the clear number two driver.
With Red Bull unable to match Mercedes or Ferrari for pace week in, week out, they need a driver capable of maximising the performance of the car to consistently bring home big points.
While Verstappen has already had two podiums and has finished no lower than fifth, Gasly’s best result this season is a fifth.
The last race in Canada is also one that won’t have helped Gasly. He qualified a season best fifth, while Verstappen was 11th after failing to set a final fast lap when Kevin Magnussen crashed.
But despite having a clear advantage over Verstappen for the race and a preferential strategy, Gasly was simply unable to execute it and was eventually overtaken by Verstappen.
Historically, Red Bull drivers have always been of extremely high calibre and had it been Daniel Ricciardo in Gasly’s seat last time out, it is unlikely Verstappen would have been the first Red Bull home.
Historically, Gasly would have lost his Red Bull seat already and we would be watching a new youngster proving their worth at the front of the grid, yet he is still there.
Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner has previously said they need to give Gasly time but could there be more to it?
Once upon a time Red Bull had so many junior drivers they didn’t have enough space to put them all. However, as other teams have created their own junior driver programmes their driver pool has diluted.
Despite having lost his seat at Red Bull as well as Toro Rosso, Kyat is now back for this third stint with Toro Rosso partnering the promising Alexander Albon.
Beyond that, Red Bull only have 10 other drivers on their books and apart from Patricio O’Ward, who is racing in Indycar, nobody else has enough super licence points to compete in Formula 1.
So for now Gasly gets to keep his Red Bull seat by circumstances rather than merit. But, he is on borrowed time so if he is going to keep the seat long term, he needs to get his act together now and start showing the speed and talent that won him that 2016 GP2 title.