How leader Gasly blossomed in "best season so far" in F1 2021

Two seasons on from his Red Bull struggles in Max Verstappen's shadow, Pierre Gasly is now relishing the role of being a team leader himself, showing his true potential in a strong 2021 Formula 1 season at AlphaTauri.

 How leader Gasly blossomed in "best season so far" in F1 2021
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Gasly was one of the standout performers in F1 2021, taking a podium in Baku alongside several top six finishes. It propelled Gasly up to ninth in the drivers' championship with 110 points, just five points behind McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo and well ahead of rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda (32).

The Frenchman has steadily blossomed with the Faenza outfit after being demoted by Red Bull halfway through 2019, culminating in his strongest campaign to date last year.

While 2021 didn't scale the heights of his maiden Monza win in 2020, the 25-year-old was a more regular fixture at the front of the midfield both in qualifying and in the races.

Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com, Gasly believes he's been performing at his best level so far in F1, which allowed him to show his real potential.

"This year has obviously been extremely good, and I think I've been in a position to really show my potential, and on more than one occasion as well," Gasly said. "If you are at the back of the midfield but let's say you have two amazing results and you get a P9 and P8 like twice in a year; even this is unbelievable, and no one will notice you.

"And this year I was in a position where the car was on occasion able to beat the Ferraris and the McLarens. We know that Ferrari have two or three times the budget than we have, we know they have a more competitive package and similar to McLaren but nevertheless I was still able to beat them on some occasions."

"For me that was the main thing, to be in a position to show my skills, my speed. Obviously, a lot of areas always to work on but it's great to say I've achieved the best I have so far in my F1 career."

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Gasly says his personal ambition for 2021 was to improve his consistency across race weekends, admitting that he often used to overdrive the car in the past to make up for its deficits.

"I wanted to work on my consistency because when the car is great it's fine to perform but sometimes the car is not as good and you still want to maximise the car that you've got," he explained. "And I think on some occasions in the past I was overtrying or overdoing.

"I think I have made a good step on that side and really become more consistent which the main target personally."

Gasly never really got going during his half season in the pressure cooker of Red Bull's A team, which was ever more built around Max Verstappen. Having now been a de facto team leader himself at AlphaTauri alongside the inexperienced Tsunoda, Gasly has first-hand experience of being the focal point in a team.

While Gasly never hid his desire to return to Red Bull Racing one day - and he was passed over for a return in favour of bringing in Sergio Perez to partner Verstappen - he is well aware of how valuable it is to be a team's lead driver and has singled out AlphaTauri's focus on him as a major factor in his 2021 performance.

"With Max's situation at Red Bull the entire team is around him and that's why they are in a position to win the championship," he pointed out. "Lewis [Hamilton] has got the entire Mercedes team behind him and that's why he's in a position to win the championship. If they were not in that position, then they would not achieve this solo performance.

"I was in a similar position at AlphaTauri with Yuki as a rookie. I had the full team focusing on myself and trying to bring the most points to the team. That's why we managed to sometimes overachieve compared to the package that we had, because the guys just put so much effort and attention on my side that we were able to over deliver on some occasions."

"Whatever team you're in, that's the status you need to have if you want to perform at your best level."

But even with F1's budget cap and its dramatic new rules package for 2022 smoothing out the playing field, Gasly admits he "needs to be realistic" about his dream of becoming a world champion.

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri

Photo by: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

"I think at the moment it's too early to say," he replied when asked whether he can realise his career ambitions at the Italian outfit, which finished sixth in last year's constructors' championship. "It's possible to achieve great things but I think also you need to be realistic.

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"I want to be world champion in Formula 1. It's extremely hard when you're fighting against teams like Mercedes with the resources, the knowledge they built over the last few years.

"The experience of fighting at the front, you can see sometimes that fighting at the front is more pressure, you cannot afford to make certain mistakes, you need to be on top of everything. These teams have the experience and the knowledge of managing this situation.

"Obviously, it's too early to say but clearly my goal is to fight for a world championship in my career."

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