Over the past two seasons, Pierre Gasly has become a race winner, a consistent presence in the final round of qualifying, and, most significantly, the first-ever lasting No. 1 driver at an AlphaTauri team that for so long had been dedicated only to moving young drivers to Red Bull Racing and re-opening seats to give other young drivers new auditions.
The team's awkward new position as a supposed senior team wholly owned by another senior team severely limits their potential, but the cars have been competitive in the mid-pack for the past few seasons and Gasly has used the opportunity to show that he is more than a forgotten Red Bull prospect.
This is the tenth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2022 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering AlphaTauri. You can find the rest of our previews here.
How He Got Here
Red Bull helped guide Gasly through the junior series, where he found reasonable success first in Formula Renault 2.0, then Formula Renault 3.5, and, finally, GP2. He ran the last third of the GP2 schedule in his first year before finishing eighth in his first full time season and, finally, winning a championship in his second.
Gasly, now 25, was first given a Super Formula drive in 2017, a Japanese series that Red Bull has used in the past when it felt its drivers were too senior for GP2 but not yet ready to replace a current driver in Formula 1. He finished second in that short championship, but was called up mid-season to replace future AlphaTauri teammate Daniil Kvyat (who has since been dropped by Red Bull Racing a second time, ending his fourth distinct stint with a Red Bull-owned F1 team). Gasly then ran full-time with Toro Rosso the next season, earning a promotion to Red Bull when Daniel Ricciardo left the program for Renault.
Gasly got all of twelve races in that car before being dropped for the then-fastest driver at Toro Rosso, Alex Albon. He has been with the Red Bull junior team, since re-named AlphaTauri, ever since.
Just as Albon regularly competed with Gasly while Gasly was struggling at Red Bull, Gasly has sometimes outshined Albon in their time in reversed roles. Gasly even won his first career race in the AlphaTauri, while Albon was dropped out of Formula 1 entirely after a season and a half. Albon, Gasly, Kvyat, and Ricciardo all represent four different unique failures of the Red Bull Racing farm system that has since hired outsider Sergio Perez for its second car, and only Gasly continues to drive a Formula 1 car for the company.
How 2021 Went
While he did not win a race as he did in 2020, Gasly's 2021 was his most successful season yet by the metrics most often used to measure mid-field drivers. He improved just one spot in the championship standings, but he did so while scoring a stellar 35 more points without the benefit of the massive 25 points that came from his Monza win. At the same time, his teammate (now Yuki Tsunoda, replacing Daniil Kvyat) still scored under 35 points, total.
Neither Tsunoda nor Kvyat were ever considered major F1 prospects, but both are qualified F1 drivers that can be seen as a reasonable barometer for Gasly to compare against. He has trounced both, all at the only team in F1 that has no real incentive to move up the grid. Gasly's last two seasons have been stellar.
Goals for 2022
Gasly already has multiple podiums to his name at AlphaTauri, but more are always better. If Gasly wants to show continued improvement to the grid, his best chance is to rack up more podiums and outrun more mid-pack contenders at teams like Alpine, McLaren, Aston Martin, and Ferrari in the season standings. Gasly is fast over one lap and strong in races, he just needs to keep that up for another year.
A Successful Season Looks Like ...
Unfortunately for Gasly, those consistently strong results do not necessarily indicate a clear path up the grid. Red Bull is content with Sergio Perez in their second seat and seems more likely to leave F1 than to ever let lead driver, reigning world champion, and prized internal development prospect Max Verstappen go.
AlphaTauri will seek out nominal improvement every season, but it ultimately remains owned by a team that would rather see its name-brand, Verstappen-led senior team win than its secondary program sponsored by an apparel company the brand also owns. One popular theory that seems to float every year has Gasly leaving the program for Alpine, but even Alpine is committed long-term to Esteban Ocon and has multiple F1-caliber prospects ready to replace Fernando Alonso whenever the two-time champion chooses to step away from the sport.
All that leaves Gasly unlikely to accomplish what should be his main goal for 2022, clearing a path to fight for wins and championships in 2023. The situation might seem dire, but it does not change how clear that goal should be. If he excels long enough, someone will eventually have the sort of exciting openings that Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniel Ricciardo found when they left the Red Bull system for greener long-term pastures. When they do, Pierre Gasly will be the most exciting name they can hire.