Although not unexpected, it was good to publish the news that Pierre Gasly will remain with AlphaTauri for the 2022 Formula 1 season, but I am still left musing why Red Bull have not promoted him to be Max Verstappen’s teammate.
The Frenchman’s new deal was confirmed today along with Yuki Tsunoda, meaning – like Red Bull – an unchanged driver line-up for AlphaTauri next year with 25-year-old Gasly leading the charge, and happy to do so.
But the question remains: why no call-up to RBR?
“I wonder why,” replied Gasly, when asked the question after finishing an impressive fourth in Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix, in which, for a second race running, he outqualified Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and was only second to race winner Max Verstappen out of the Honda-powered cars.
Pierre added: “But yeah, there were discussions, I think they are really happy with my performance but… they made their decision.”
As good as the AlphaTauri is, it is no match for the race-winning Red Bull. Thus when it became clear last year that Alex Albon was not up to the task of being Max’s teammate, Gasly might have expected a call from his bosses.
After all, he won famously at Monza last year and has delivered consistently “brilliant performances” as F1 motorsport boss Ross Brawn testified in his column on the Zandvoort weekend.
Instead, the team opted to source out of their Bullpen and take on the services of veteran Sergio Perez which stymied any short-term progress Gasly (and many others) may have expected or at least dreamt of.
He admitted: “Obviously it was a small disappointment for me as that’s where I want to be, I want to have a fast car.”
But for now, he at least has one of the 20 most coveted seats in motorsport and not a bad one at that. At least he can showcase his talents, as he has been doing just about every Sunday since they torpedoed him back to Toro Rosso after his ill-fated spell with Red Bull in 2019.
It’s important to rewind to that point in his story.
The only reason Gasly got promoted at the end of 2018 was that Daniel Ricciardo decided that he was no longer part of the Red Bull bigger picture and, unexpectedly, inked a lucrative deal with Renault.
At that point, Gasly had one full season with Toro Rosso and Red Bull had the choice between the Frenchman or New Zealander Brendon Hartley when neither were ready for the senior team.
Left without much choice Red Bull opted for Gasly…
History shows that he was doomed from day two of the 2019 F1 testing in Barcelona, when he pranged the RB15 heavily. The damage was a big setback for the team which they let no one forget, let alone Gasly who was marginalised from that point on.
His confidence took a huge knock and as a result, he was often lapped by Max and simply was no match for the Dutch ace during the dozen races he did for RBR. It was embarrassing at times.
After 12 races he was dropped for Alex Albon which also proved to be a year too early for the Thai driver.
But this is a story about Pierre… who goes back to Toro Rosso and begins the process of rebuilding his career with results way beyond his pay grade. Working miracles with a midfield car, dispensing of Daniil Kvyat first and now making Yuki Tsunoda look very ordinary and even unqualified for F1.
This brings us to why, at the end of last season, Pierre was not given the nod to partner Max again?
It’s a certainty that Gasly 2.0 will be a lot better than the guy he was when he got dropped in the deep end before he could swim. But, now that he can, why go out the Red Bull driver pipeline and pick Perez?
Although we are all glad Checo’s F1 career was saved, that’s not the point. With Pierre on the rise and rise, was the Mexican really necessary for Red Bull?
In retrospect, one could argue “yes he was and is” but perhaps not as Verstappen’s teammate.
Let’s recall late last year how Perez was out of a deal when Racing Point (aka Aston Martin) decided Sebastian Vettel would partner Lance Stroll. For a time it seemed that Indycar would be Checo’s destiny.
But, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, decided to go for a safe pair of hands in Perez and keep Gasly at AlphaTauri. Was it a knee-jerk reaction? After all they had Gasly doing wonders in the junior team.
Now, 13 races later, one could ask was it the right call? And the answer for me has to be not really, maybe, time will tell. 50/50. A passing grade but only just but big improvements expected in the second half.
Or put it this way: for now, VER-PER is not quite HAM-BOT, and the Red Bull objective to hire out of the Bull-pen was to at least have the second Red Bull up there all the time, not occasionally.
At the same time, it has to be said that being Verstappen’s teammate is arguably the hardest job in the sport and, despite all the positive signs, there is no guarantee that Gasly 2.0 will indeed be able to run Max close.
Again, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the solution was to indeed hire Checo, as they did, but for AlphaTauri instead, where he could come to terms with the Red Bull organization with the role of the reserve should the second Gasly-at-Red-Bull experiment fail.
But it’s not that way in the current landscape, where Perez has not been plug-and-play and is no match for Max. He has also made more mistakes than a veteran of his reputation should.
Nevertheless, he is the best second driver to Max that RBR have had in the second car. However, not good enough to make me forget that Gasly did not get the nod to the senior team for 2021 because he had ticked every box and more to deserve the ride.
Where he will go and when he will go is to be decided by Dr. Marko who told NewstalkZB: “We are looking at his progress. And in the next two years, we will make a decision whether he will be on the free market or whether we will take him to Red Bull.”
“Perez is 31 years old now, so he won’t be too long in Red Bull Racing,” added Marko, which won’t be music to some ears!
Meanwhile, Gasly is resigned to the fact he won’t be racing for Red Bull anytime soon: “It was up to them and, unfortunately, it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future, but for sure for next year I’m not going to drive there.”
In conclusion, I can’t help think that in 2019 Gasly’s call up to Red Bull was a year too early but now, if he does get another chance, it may well be a year too late. As mentioned, a curious case.