Suffering two crashes in testing and a debut to forget in Melbourne, the pressure is already piling up for Pierre Gasly at Red Bull.
We may be only one race into the season, but suffice to say, it’s so far proved a difficult one for Pierre Gasly. The training wheels taken off with his move to Red Bull, the 23-year-old Frenchman has largely struggled to keep himself upright, and that’s certainly not the start to life at the pointy end of the grid that any driver wants, let alone one whose fate rests in the hands of Helmut Marko.
Spinning into the barriers on his first day in the car in Barcelona, then repeating the feat a week later, Gasly already had some serious amends to make before he ever set foot in Melbourne, and yet things only proceeded to get worse from there.
Admittedly the disastrous weekend wasn’t all his fault, as his Q1 elimination on Saturday entirely down to the vagaries of traffic and a pit wall that underestimated the level of track evolution while boxing him to save tyres. However, the same can’t be said for his disappointing performance on Sunday, and that is why his situation is already looking so precarious.
Starting 17th and finishing 11th, Gasly debut marked Red Bull’s first outside-top-ten finish since the 2016 Belgian GP. Already, that’s not a great, but then there’s the additional factor that the man who prevented him from scoring any points was none other than Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, and that raises the intrigue considerably.
Stuck behind Kvyat for 57 of the race’s 58 laps, Gasly was bested by perhaps the one driver on the grid he truly needs to beat, and indeed in such a manner that makes it fair to question whether he’s the right man for the senior team job.
Even factoring in the hard-to-pass nature of the Albert Park street circuit, 57 laps is a long time to be stuck behind an inferior car, and that’s doubly so when both Max Verstappen and the man he replaced, Daniel Ricciardo, are known for their ability to make quick work of cars when even half an opportunity presents itself.
Behind by just 0.335s at the flag, it’s hard to argue Gasly didn’t have half-chances of his own, and while it would be unfair to expect him to already be on the level of a Verstappen or Ricciardo in terms of racecraft, it would still have been nice to see him display some similar ambition. Instead, the Frenchman was kept largely bottled-up by Kvyat, being seemingly content to bide his time for a better chance that would never come.
Perhaps in saying that, it’s reasonable to give more credit to Kvyat than to knock Gasly, and yet, the quirk here is that it hurts the latter’s standing all the same, as either way the Russian comes out looking like the better driver.
Of course, it’s not like Gasly will be gone before Bahrain, and short of putting it in the pool at Monaco he’ll get all 21 races this season, but make no mistake: races like last Sunday will stick in the memory of Dr. Marko.
It’s not often you get to make a direct comparison between Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers, and for one of the former to come off so decisively second-best will count against him, especially when the latter has already proved to be viable replacement.
If Gasly is to make this senior team thing stick, this is one memory he’ll really need to banish, and the sooner, the better.
Big Question: Is Pierre the real deal?