Can Gasly finally fulfil AlphaTauri qualifying promise?

Thus far the 2021 Formula 1 season has been a case of glass half full for Pierre Gasly and his AlphaTauri team.

Can Gasly finally fulfil AlphaTauri qualifying promise?

Arguably, no other combination has so clearly failed to turn dazzling qualifying speed into hard results. It's a strange situation given that historically the Faenza outfit has been known for overachieving, stealing unexpected results on days when things go wrong for others.

Gasly qualified a superb fifth at both of the opening events in Bahrain and Imola, and yet the races have not gone to plan.

In the first race the Frenchman crunched his front wing against the rear wheel of Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren on the opening lap, and his day was effectively over. Then at its home event AlphaTauri made an over-cautious call to start both cars on full wet tyres.

That didn't pay off, and in the end seventh – helped by a one-place gain from a penalty ahead – represented a decent recovery for Gasly. To compound the Italian team's frustration his teammate Yuki Tsunoda has yet to fully optimise a race weekend and fulfil his obvious potential.

Gasly is well aware that opportunities have been wasted, and that he has to make it count in Portugal this weekend.

"That's the situation so far," he says. "I think we've had great Fridays and Saturdays, even better Saturdays than we expected with the two fifths places on the two first races.

"But our Sundays haven't been good enough, and we didn't manage to make the best out of them. So that's clearly the focus for the coming races, to be able to leave on Sunday knowing we extracted everything from the car we had. So far it hasn't been the case yet."

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

He insists that driver and team have both learned from the first two races: "I think Bahrain was pretty clear. I didn't expect Daniel to brake that early. I was close to staying behind, and then a little touch, and big consequence. That was it. So yeah, a lesson for me.

"And then in Imola it was the tyre choice. I think we understood exactly what's happened, we could have done better. There were some mistakes. And we learned, and I think now I'm pretty confident, similar situation, this would not have happened."

The first two races suggested that there's huge potential in the car. Portimao provides us with a third sample, and it will be intriguing to see how AlphaTauri stacks up against its main rivals behind the Red Bull/Mercedes battle.

"I still want to see, because obviously, it is different," says Gasly. "But I think one area we've got to improve is low speed performance. That's one one thing where we know we should do better, and Ferrari is really strong in these corners. So I expect them to be very fast this weekend.

"McLaren seem to have a lot of load, and are very strong in high speed. There's a bit less speed here, so we'll have to see how we compare to them. But I think our package seems to be relatively good in all areas.

"Here is towards low speed corners, and I expect the Alpine to be slightly closer this weekend than previous weekends. And the Ferrari to be really strong. But I still think we're going to be there, and should be on for a strong weekend."

AlphaTauri's slow-corner weakness is an interesting admission. Nevertheless Gasly is confident that the car can be competitive at all types of venues.

"I want to believe it. I feel good in the car, I feel like I can really put strong laps together when it counts. And obviously it's important for us to score the points now, because now we are fighting with McLaren and Ferrari, who both have much bigger budgets than we have.

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri in the Press Conference

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri in the Press Conference

Photo by: FIA Pool

"And potentially – maybe it's not going to be the case – but potentially they have a bit more resource to develop the car faster. So that's why I really hope we can get these points now and get the strong results before they start to find more and more performance."

Gasly clearly recognises that AlphaTauri has got off to a flying start, and that bigger teams may now get their acts together and improve faster. In other words this is the time to make it count.

However 2021 is not a development race, as all teams have to make the difficult decision on when to fully switch their R&D resources to the 2022 package.

"The team hasn't changed the plan for that," Gasly insists. "So we're still sticking to the same plan that they had in mind at the start of the year. It doesn't change our approach that every weekend we should maximise the points with the package we have.

"In Bahrain, we clearly lost lots of points. In Imola looking back, I think we didn't have the pace to fight for the top five, with Norris and the two Ferraris, but clearly a sixth place was where we should have been.

"So we've lost another two points there. And we can't afford that. So that's going to be our main focus, to make sure that we have better Sundays."

Gasly is clearly brimful of confidence on and off the track, and that's reflected in his ability to get the most out of his AT02 on Saturdays.

"So far that's what where we managed to put the car, and I'm quite happy where I am, I'm feeling I can really push the car to its limits and put things together.

"And I think that's the reason why I managed to really extract the maximum on Saturdays and qualified where we qualified.

"If you look, Imola, we were three-tenths from pole position, and I don't think it ever happened to AlphaTauri. In Bahrain I think I qualified three tenths from Bottas in P3.

"So we are really in a good position, and the team is doing a fantastic job on that side and keeps pushing, and there's a great sort of dynamic between all of us. So that's really, really promising. And I think that's the best place we've ever been."

Gasly is clearly enjoying coming into race weekends knowing that his car has the potential to be in the thick of the action.

"Yeah, I like that feeling. Obviously, in the past, I think we were more relying on external factors to happen to give us an opportunity to shine, where I think now we have more tools in our hands to dictate our future and what's going to happen. And I like that.

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

"I think it's the overall package and the way we are working, and also the philosophy of the team. And you know, everybody is very grounded, always questioning what can we do better? How do we move forward?

"And even when we have good or bad weekends learning why it was good, why it was bad, and then just moving forward and never taking anything for granted. We've always got to deliver more.

"And there is a great, great mentality, and there's a great dynamic. And obviously the win last year gave a big boost to everyone that okay, these things are possible. And you can really feel that energy in the team, and it's great to be to be part of it."

Inevitably any conversation with Gasly involves his future.

Despite his superb 2020 season and Monza win he was overlooked when it was decided to replace Alex Albon at Red Bull Racing.

Team boss Christian Horner made it clear that the Frenchman had had his chance at the top team, hadn't done enough to deserve another, and was doing a good job where he was.

With Sergio Perez getting up to speed and Tsunoda clearly destined to reach Red Bull sooner or later it seems unlikely that Gasly will ever make a return to the senior outfit. So is his main target now to advertise himself and impress the paddock at large?

"At the moment it's not my, let's say, focus," he says. "But obviously personally I want to fight for top positions. I want to fight for podiums, I want to fight for race wins, and I'm doing everything I can to get these opportunities.

"And at the moment if there is a will from both sides to work with Red Bull, I'll be really happy to do it, because they have a really fast car and they are proving that they are fighting for these positions. And it's obviously very appetising. But we need to do it in the right condition.

"If there is no will, then, yeah, I'm sure then there will be other opportunities. But that's something we've got to discuss with Red Bull. But at the moment, they are my priority and my focus."

But what about that logjam of Perez and Tsunoda – isn't it clear that there there won't be an opening? Gasly remains convinced that he can still do make his case on track.

"I think ultimately, at the end of the day, teams are looking at which driver is performing," he says. "That's what I've focussed on since last year, putting the strongest performance I can with the car you have.

"And I'm also really happy with the performance of myself and what I can provide to the team now. So I've got to keep working on that and try to bring as many points as I can to the team. And then we'll see what happens with Red Bull.

"As I say, if there is a will, then I'll be more than happy to do it. And if there is no will, then we'll have to find a solution for what happens in my future. But personally, what I want is to be right up there and fight with the top guys."

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