It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Pierre Gasly is heading into what could turn out to be the most important year of his Formula 1 career to date.
The Frenchman, 26, finds himself at something of a career crossroads with his contract due to expire at the end of the 2022 F1 season. Gasly remains determined to achieve his goal of securing a return to Red Bull, but there are no guarantees such a move will come off even if his superb form continues.
Ever since being demoted back to Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri following a difficult half-season alongside Max Verstappen in 2019, Gasly has been on a road to redemption to rebuild his reputation.
First came a maiden podium in Brazil at the end of 2019, before a shock victory at Monza followed in 2020. In 2021, Gasly enjoyed his strongest season in F1 as some outstanding performances helped him reach 100 points for the first time in his career on his way to finishing ninth in the championship.
Despite Gasly’s eye-catching performances, he was twice overlooked as Red Bull opted to sign Sergio Perez for the 2021 season, before retaining the experienced Mexican for a further season in 2022.
After producing his most convincing F1 season yet, Gasly believes he has never been more ready for a shot at the front of the grid.
“Some guys went to top teams without any race wins and without podiums and they delivered for the top teams,” Gasly told Crash.net as part of an exclusive interview ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
“Examples like Charles Leclerc, like George Russell – well George finished on the podium even if we didn’t race – so maybe not George… But I’m a very different driver than I was three years ago.
“I think everybody grew from that situation and yeah, I feel ready. Whether it’s going to happen if I do a good year or not, it’s not up to me to decide.
“At the end of the day, the best thing I can do for myself is to perform and then we will see what will come out from it.”
The biggest problem is that the decision is ultimately out of Gasly’s hands. Even if he continues to flourish at AlphaTauri and comfortably beats teammate Yuki Tsunoda again this year, there is a chance Red Bull will opt to stick with the Verstappen-Perez partnership that has so far worked well.
Gasly was understandably coy about the situation when asked by Crash.net. For the time being, he insists he is not concerned about timeframes and remains solely focused on maximising his performances in the hope his results will speak for themselves and persuade Red Bull to give him a second chance.
“I think my situation contractually is quite clear,” he said. “Obviously we will have to talk about it at some point but right now we are only in Bahrain, so I don’t want to have this in my head.
“I’m just focusing on performing and getting the results. At the end of the day, I’ve always believed I know what I can do, I know what I can achieve in Formula 1. At some point things will align but I can’t speak for Red Bull, it’s up to them to decide.”
The other issue for Gasly is that Red Bull is unlikely to be in a rush to decide upon its driver line-up for 2023. Last year, the Milton Keynes squad waited until the end of August before eventually confirming Perez’s stay for 2022.
A similar story this season would not leave Gasly with much wriggle-room if he wanted to look at options outside of the Red Bull stable. The 2023 F1 driver market is set to be one of the most intriguing in years with half of the grid out of contract, but seats will be snapped up quickly once the dominoes begin to fall.
Should things not move fast enough on Red Bull’s side, Gasly could face the possibility of being left with little option but to commit to staying at AlphaTauri if ships elsewhere have already sailed.
There is no doubt that Gasly is very happy at AlphaTauri – he is in an environment that is enabling him to get the best out of himself in a strong midfield car – but realistically he knows he is never going to achieve his dream of fighting for the world championship at the Faenza-based outfit.
Gasly made his frustrations about missing out on a Red Bull return for 2022 clear at the time and has indicated he is only willing to be patient for so long.
“I have my own ambitions and they know that I want to be world champion,” he replied when asked if he would be willing to take the decision out of Red Bull’s hands by going his own way if he felt the wait was too long.
“They know who I am, they know who I am as a driver, they’ve seen me. I’ve been contracted to them for the last nine years, so I think they have a small idea of my potential after all this time.
“And yeah, we will see if there is a common interest and if we can make this work together. Right now they are happy with their line-up and I’m happy for them because they’ve shown great performance.
“But I’m also looking at what’s best for my career, because it’s not like you have 50 years of career. So I’ve got to make this work at some point.”
Cutting his ties to Red Bull in a similar manner to Carlos Sainz, who has navigated his way to Ferrari, might be tempting for Gasly. However, he appears to have a less obvious route to a top team.
Away from Red Bull, Ferrari looks locked out for the foreseeable future, while Lewis Hamilton is committed to Mercedes until at least the end of 2023, with George Russell on an undisclosed multi-year deal. Meanwhile, McLaren has Lando Norris tied down to a long-term contract and Daniel Ricciardo is locked in for 2023.
Alpine was mooted as a possible destination for Gasly before Esteban Ocon signed a new long-term deal. A seat may open up if Fernando Alonso decided to walk away at the end of the year, though in that scenario it is perhaps more likely that reigning Formula 2 champion and Alpine junior Oscar Piastri would get the nod.
Then there is Aston Martin, a team with huge, ambitious plans for the future. Lance Stroll’s seat appears safe for the immediate picture given his father Lawrence owns the Silverstone-based outfit, but there is uncertainty over Sebastian Vettel’s future.
Like Alonso, the four-time world champion’s current contract is due to expire at the end of the year and the German has admitted he does not know if he will stay in F1 beyond 2022, or when he will make a decision.
If Vettel decided to call time on his illustrious F1 career, Gasly would be an attractive option for Aston Martin. The prospect of building a team around him in a lead driver role would surely appeal to Gasly, who would join an exciting project at Aston Martin, which is laying the groundwork to establish itself as championship challengers in the coming years.
For the moment, these are all hypotheticals but Gasly’s future is likely to be an open topic that will gather pace as the season and fascinating 2023 driver market rumbles on…