The 2020 Italian Grand Prix – One year on!
I can still vividly remember the childlike chills that ran the length of my spine as that stunning white and navy blue AlphaTauri rounded the iconic Parabolica corner for the last time, a year ago today. With Carlos Sainz just behind and the soundtrack of an excited David Croft mixed with the roar of the Italian Tifosi, a truly thrilling race was about to come to an end. With the checkered flag now waving, the world blew into excitement as Crofty announced: “PIERRE GASLY WINS THE ITALIAN GRAND PRIX! OH MY OH MY, IS THAT JUST WONDERFUL!” With the navy blue boys on the pit wall enthusiastically chanting the Frenchman’s name, Pierre Gasly was now a race winner in Formula One and wow did he deserve it!
Written by Aiden Hover, Edited by Morgan Holiday
The story of Pierre Gasly winning the 2020 Italian Grand Prix was one of hard work, determination and a desire for redemption that, in all honesty, started over a year beforehand at the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix.
Pierre was to drive with RedBull for the 2019 season, replacing the departing Daniel Ricciardo as teammate to the talented Max Verstappen. He had shown why he deserved that seat throughout his year and a bit at Toro Rosso in 2018 & 17 with some truly standout performances, such as a brilliant P4 in Bahrain and P6 in Hungary along with an array of points finishes with what would turn out to be a very unreliable Honda power unit. He had also convincingly beaten his teammate, Brendon Hartley. With a Formula One start as good as this, a step up to the big team seemed a no brainer. Things were looking good for Gasly going into 2019.
As is expected when joining a new team, it was going to take a short while for Pierre to fully catch up to speed with Verstappen. However, he didn’t help himself with a massive crash in pre-season testing that would, unfortunately, set the tone for the rest of his RedBull stint. Having caused the team numerous headaches before the season had even started, Pierre had to prove his worth at the season opener in Australia. This, however, didn’t happen. He would qualify 17th and struggle through the field to 11th in a car that arguably had the pace to win. Unfortunately for the French driver, he was nowhere near the pace of Verstappen in qualifying and was not able to carve his way through the slower traffic come race day – a trend that he failed to break. His time at RedBull would come to its lowest at Austria when Max Verstappen would lap teammate Gasly whilst on his way to win the race.
By the summer break of that year, Verstappen had finished on the podium four times with two race wins and was sitting on 181 points in the championship, never finishing outside of the top five. Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly had only managed a best finish of fourth with no podiums and a disappointing 63 points. It was evident by this point that his RedBull drive was at risk, and by the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, it was announced that Pierre Gasly would be demoted back down to Toro Rosso whilst Alex Albon would be promoted to RedBull. This was made particularly more heartbreaking by the fact that Gasly went into the summer break ahead of Belgium with reassurance from both Christian Horner (RedBull team principal) and Helmut Marko (RedBull advisor and head of their driver development programmes) that his seat was safe.
Pierre Gasly knew that if he wanted a successful F1 career, he would need to prove RedBull wrong. In a weekend shrouded by emotion; following the loss of talented F2 driver, and close friend of Gasly, Anthoine Hubert, as well as his demotion to Toro Rosso – Pierre would come out of the gates swinging with a storming drive through the field as he scored points in his first race with Toro Rosso.
As the second half of the season ticked by, Gasly slowly found his confidence again as well as his previous form from 2018. With more points finishes in Singapore, Japan and Mexico, many began to wonder what went so wrong at RedBull for Pierre to struggle as badly as he did. He was now easily beating teammate Danil Kvyat and consistently fighting for top ten positions and it was only a matter of time until he would achieve that stand out result to prove his critics wrong.
It was the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix. Starting the race in P7 following a tidy Saturday, Pierre was in a good position for points come Sunday. However, the race that would unfold ahead of him would be remembered for a long time to come. Having run much of the race in his starting position of 7th, Gasly would stay in contention to pick his way through the chaos ahead. He would be gifted 6th as Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas pulled over with an engine issue that would trigger a safety car and bunch the field back together. Upon the safety car restart, whilst Hamilton and Verstappen squabbled away for the lead, the two Ferrari drivers tripped each other up allowing Albon to take third position. The Ferraris were not done fighting yet, as only a few laps later, Sebastian Vettel would come across the track on Charles Leclerc as he attempted to re-overtake his teammate resulting in the two colliding. Both red cars would suffer punctures and be eliminated from the race, allowing Gasly to inherit fourth place – equalling his best finish with RedBull.
The race was not yet over, however, and on the final lap, Sir Lewis Hamilton would come together with Alex Albon – demoting the Thai driver to the back of the field and damaging the Mercedes of Hamilton. Pierre would navigate himself through the carnage and position himself alongside Hamilton as they came around the final corner. The two sped side-by-side as they drag raced to the line for second place. Against all odds, Gasly would beat out Hamilton and take the first podium of his Formula One career with second place!
Pierre Gasly was back! The immensely talented young Frenchman was finally living up to the hype that he had come into the sport with and was firing on all cylinders as Formula One prepared for the 2020 season!
Despite the delayed start to the season, Gasly started 2020 with the newly rebranded AlphaTauri team, just as he had ended 2019 with consistent showings in the top 10. Scoring points in the season opener at Austria and then again in the first British Grand Prix of that year, as well as in Spain and Belgium, things were looking good for him as the paddock rolled into Italy.
Placing his AlphaTauri Honda a solid 10th on the grid, Gasly was hoping to once again stay out of trouble and pick his way through the carnage to secure a handful of points. As lights went out, Pierre got a decent start holding his position as they began to brake for turn one. With the Racing Point of Lance Stroll on his inside and the RedBull of Alex Albon on his outside, however, Gasly would be unable to avoid contact as he was sandwiched into the side of the RedBull causing Albon to be lifted into the air and fall down the order. It appeared, for now at least, that Gasly had gotten away unscathed, and he continued in 9th place. The first lap dramas were not yet over, however, as whilst the two McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris made their way past Valtteri Bottas into 2nd and 3rd, Gasly would lock up and be forced to run across the second chicane falling back to 10th behind Nico Hulkenberg.
With the exception of Vettel’s brake failure, the race seemed to settle down until lap 19 when Haas driver Kevin Magnussen would break down and park his car just before the pit lane entry. This would trigger a safety car to once again bunch the field back together. What it also did was close the pitlane to entry due to where the stranded Haas was parked, meaning no one would be allowed to enter the pits – and yet race leader Lewis Hamilton had come into the pits as part of a rare mistake from Mercedes, and had changed his tyres. He would emerge into the race in second behind Carlos Sainz, however, the Brit would be handed a ten-second stop-go penalty as was Antonio Giovinazzo who also had pit illegally.
At this point, behind the safety car, Pierre Gasly sat in 15th following an earlier pitstop, but his fortunes would soon change as, several laps later, the pitlane would be reopened allowing all those ahead who hadn’t already stopped to pit. Suddenly Gasly was running P3, behind Lewis Hamilton, who still had a penalty to serve and Lance Stroll, who had pit earlier with Gasly. It seemed as though both Gasly and Stroll would be soon swallowed by the faster cars behind on fresh tyres when the safety car came in as the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc along with the two McLarens made light work of the Alfa Romeos and Williams behind Gasly, who were on a similar strategy.
Suddenly on lap 24, Charles Leclerc lost control from 4th as he rounded the Parabolica and was sent skipping along the gravel and into the barrier for what was a very scary and painful shunt and to no surprise, the red flag was called. This turned out to be a miracle for those who had stopped before the safety car as it allowed them to change onto fresh tyres with no penalty and essentially put the whole grid onto the same strategy.
Upon the restart a short while later, Gasly made a good start from third on the grid to overtake Stroll and break away from the pack behind before inheriting the lead from Hamilton several laps later as the Mercedes driver peeled into the pits to serve his penalty. Behind them, Stroll, who had already lost places to Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, had been overtaken by the fast-charging Carlos Sainz, who – after overtaking Giovinazzi and Hamilton as they served their penalties – only had the Alfa Romeo of Raikkonen between him and Pierre Gasly.
Both Sainz and Gasly had secured their first Formula One podiums at the previous years Brazilian Grand Prix as Sainz was promoted to third following a post-race penalty for Hamilton and Gasly had taken second following his epic drag race. They both were now in contention for their first Formula One victories, and they knew it. As Sainz made his way past the Alfa Romeo, he told his team how he was “More worried about Gasly,” as he knew how crucial each corner was to closing down on the Alpha Tauri leading the race.
The next 20 laps were nail-bitingly tense for every single person watching, as Sainz slowly chipped away at Gasly’s 5-second lead and into the coveted DRS, awarding a one-second gap with two laps to go. The McLaren tucked into the slipstream out of the Parabolica to close up to the Alpha Tauri along the main straight and into the final lap with a gap at this point of only three tenths. Into the first corner, Sainz would dive to the inside, but ultimately back out to try and get the run into the second chicane, but to no avail as Gasly ahead got good traction into the Curva Grande and would be able to hold position. Carlos Sainz now only had one attempt left to secure his first Formula One victory. He needed to get as close as he could possibly get through the Ascari Chicane in order to slipstream his way by into the Parabolica, but unfortunately for him, he would be unable to. As Gasly made his way through the final turn, he dove towards the pit wall to pass under his adoring team to win the Italian Grand Prix!
He had returned the team to winning form for the first time since the same Grand Prix in 2008 with a certain Sebastian Vettel, and he had proved to the world who Pierre Gasly was. Since then, Gasly has gone on to build the Italian team around himself as he has developed into a truly exceptional racing driver adored by all. It turns out that all he needed was an environment that truly loved him and wanted the best for him. So far in 2021, Pierre has been a standout driver, starting in the top six at 10 out of 13 races so far with some stand out finishes, such as a podium finish in Baku and a P4 at the recent Dutch GP. He also has proven his talent under pressure, such as in Monaco, when he defended from Hamilton all race to secure P6. Currently sitting in 8th in the standings with 66 points, he is on for one of his most impressive seasons so far in Formula One with machinery that really shouldn’t be achieving the results that he is consistently getting.
Surely, it’s only a matter of time before this truly exceptional driver gets awarded with the chance to drive race-winning machinery once again, and with a team that will truly love him and cherish his talent. Whatever happens, Pierre is certain to have a remarkable career in Formula One and we at DIVEBOMB wish him all the best, a year on from his debut Formula One victory at Monza.