Are these two GP2 Rivals finally hitting their stride?

The 2016 GP2 championship featured two drivers rising above the rest, fighting it out until the final race of the season. They were the two rising stars of single seater racing and their Formula 1 success was essentially guaranteed.

This year marks the first time those two drivers, Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi, are both racing in Formula 1 with the other on the grid and it is fair to say that their 2019 seasons haven’t been as startling as their GP2 season promised.

Prior to his debut in F1, Pierre Gasly competed for the Super Formula championship and was promoted to Toro Rosso when Red Bull finally lost patience with Danill Kvyat in 2017. His first full season in F1 last year was very positive with a stunning fourth place finish in Bahrain being the obvious high point. His promotion to Red Bull was assumed following Daniel Ricciardo’s move to Renault and it was soon announced with few doubting the decision. Only praise for another young driver with supreme potential getting their chance at the sharp end of the grid.

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Giovinazzi’s promotion to F1 was a bit rockier. His debut came in Australia in 2017 to substitute the injured Pascal Wehrlein and he performed solidly and was impressive compared to his experienced teammate, Marcus Ericcson narrowly avoiding a Q2 appearance. His second race in China was patchier and he crashed out twice at the same corner, once in qualifying and early on in the race.

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This set up his reputation for 2017 which was a driver who had the pace but was a bit unstable and could drop the car easily, which he did in free practice sessions for Haas later on in the season.

Giovinazzi was passed over by Haas for a race seat in 2018 and was jumped by another Ferrari junior, Charles Leclerc for the Sauber Alfa Romeo seat having to take a background development role at Ferrari for the season. He excelled in the simulator work and it was common to hear praise for his setup suggestions over Friday nights giving Ferrari the edge for the rest of the weekend. He consistently impressed Ferrari and earned his place at the Alfa Romeo team for 2019.

The lacklustre season start for both drivers in 2019 was noticeable. Both drivers were off the pace of their teammates and were out qualified and out raced constantly. Gasly failed to score points in the opening round with his Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen on the podium. Giovinazzi didn’t look close to scoring points whilst his teammate was solidly scoring for the first four races of the season and after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was matching Gasly for points in 6th place in the championship standings.

The high-pressure world of Formula 1 started to mount pressure on the two drivers and for one of them, gradual improvement appeared to be on the way. Giovinazzi’s pace matched and, in some cases, bettered his world champion teammate. In Canada, France and Austria he reached the Q3 session and in Austria, he scored his first F1 points. A sure notice of the development he has made.

He had good pace once again in Silverstone, qualifying ahead of Raikkonen. He crashed out and brought out the safety car but only due to a rear rim failure, not due to driver error. Giovinazzi appears to have found his feet in F1 and is steadily improving, finding more and more pace alongside his successful teammate. Raikkonen scored a pole position and a race win last year so is a significant benchmark for the young driver to compare himself to. On raw pace Giovinazzi is starting to get the better of Raikkonen and as the season develops he will develop into F1 more and more and could trouble Raikkonen more than expected. Raikkonen still has an edge on racecraft and knowledge of the sport but Giovinazzi was seven when Raikkonen started racing in F1 so experience will be playing its part there significantly.

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Whilst Giovinazzi improved, Gasly appeared to be struggling more and more. The high-pressure on Red Bull drivers is well documented and Gasly’s lack of pace in comparision to his teammate was becoming an issue that could no longer be put down to getting used to the car. In France, Gasly was outqualifed by the 2 McLarens and Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault. He finished the race in 10th to his teammates 4th.

The next race in Austria left him starting behind Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, Lando Norris’ McLaren and both Alfa Romeos. The biggest blow came in the race when Verstappen lapped him and won the race whilst he finished behind Lando Norris in seventh. Gasly was seemingly not finding a work around for the issues he was having to deal with and nine races into the season he needed to, fast.

Silverstone marked a turning point for Gasly when he topped Free Practice 1 and showed competitive pace all weekend. He outqualifed Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari and was able to race with the Ferraris and his teammate in the race eventually finishing fourth, albeit aided by Verstappen and Vettel’s crash ahead of him. But he was there to pick up the pieces and was not off the pace. Gasly had finally unlocked the speed that was shown when he won the GP2 series, came second in his first season of the highly competitive Super Formula in Japan and scored points strongly in a lower midfield Toro Rosso last year.

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There is no point getting over excited about Gasly’s turnaround in form. It could be track specific to Silverstone but the confidence he will now feel will help him into Germany next weekend. The upturn in form proves the underlying pace to himself as he was starting to lose confidence. He will be more motivated, have more self-belief and be more comfortable with his style and how he needs to drive to be successful. He’s proved he can race at the level his seat requires, now he needs to stay there.

Both drivers have had a tricky 2019 season, but both are proving their worth at the top level of motorsport. It takes a lot to get to Formula 1 and they have both earned their way on the grid. The form to keep them there is finally starting to show itself.

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