GP Racing (UK)



Pierre Gasly on friendship with Leclerc and life at Red Bull

As teenagers they were team-mates and in 2010 finished 1-2 in the French karting championsh­ip. Eight years later childhood pals Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc race alongside each other in F1, hoping to be on the podium together once more. We spoke to Gasly to discover the origins of their friendship and how he’s adapting to life with Red Bull…

There’s always one, isn’t there? Just after you’ve comfortabl­y settled into your seat, clicked the seatbelt across your lap, and are scanning for a decent film on the seat’s screen in front of you – someone asks you to move. It was on the late-night flight out of Bahrain after this year’s race that F1 Racing became aware of such a scenario unfolding: passengers being politely asked if they wouldn’t mind moving seats so two chums could take up seats together. The architects of this kerfuffle, the two friends who became reunited at 30,000 feet, were none other than Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. “We grew up together,” explains Gasly. “We first met in 2005, when I was about nine and our parents became really close. As families, we spent holidays, staying on boats together in the south of France and five years later we became team-mates in karting. That year I probably spent more time with Charles than I did with my own parents. “One of my first F1 memories was when I went to visit Charles at his Monaco home during the grand prix weekend. His parents’ house was miles

away from the track and yet I could hear the cars, 3-litre V10s, in morning practice. We were so far from the circuit – yet it was super impressive.”

Perhaps it was no surprise Gasly was so enchanted by the sound of a racing engine, as he comes from a family steeped in motorsport. In fact, he is the third generation of Gasly to become successful on four wheels.

“I don’t think a lot of people know this, but my grandmothe­r, Yveline Gasly, was a karting champion. My father was also a racer in karting, rallying and in endurance events – and a French champion too. I also have four older brothers and three of them raced in karting. So, from three years of age, my mother used to take me in a buggy that she pushed around and I would make engine noises. From a very young age,

I was always part of motorsport.”

Gasly won the French karting championsh­ip in 2010 driving for Sodikart when he was teammate to his younger friend Leclerc, who was runner-up that year. It is the pictures of the two of them together (aged 14 and 13) that Gasly has shared with F1 Racing this month.

“We had a really good fight for the championsh­ip and it was a good time testing on tracks together and racing,” says Gasly. “Although I moved on to single-seaters before Charles, we still have a very close friendship as he’s a nice, kind guy.”

Fifteen years after they first met the pair find themselves racing together in Formula 1, and following their recent graduation to Red Bull and Ferrari, they could easily find themselves sharing a podium once more.

In the early part this year, it’s been Leclerc that has made more of an impression with his assured performanc­es for Ferrari, while Gasly admits he still isn’t yet fully comfortabl­e behind the wheel of the Red Bull RB15. Pre-season was blighted by two large accidents in testing and it’s taken him time to get up to speed.

“It’s fair to say that I don’t feel as comfortabl­e in the Red Bull as I was in the Toro Rosso last year,” concedes Gasly. “In a way I found a direction quickly in the Toro Rosso to get the best out of it. But I’ve found it’s a bit tricky in the Red Bull. I don’t feel I can have the input I want inside the cockpit – it’s quite inconsiste­nt. It doesn’t do what I expect it to do in one corner and then in another it’s different again. The main thing is trying to drive the car as I would like it to be.”

The environmen­t at Red Bull is notably pressurise­d, as former drivers and power unit suppliers will attest, but Gasly hopes he will be afforded the time to adapt. Before the season began, team boss Christian Horner admitted Gasly has been “elevated 12 months before we’d ideally like” but more recently suggested his confidence had been growing.

“He had a tough pre-season, with the two incidents in testing putting him on the back foot, but at each grand prix he’s got stronger and stronger,” says Horner. “I think more seat time will be extremely beneficial to him and as we come back to circuits that he’s more familiar with, I think we’ll see him make further progress.”

The continuity for Gasly after his first full season at Toro Rosso has been the Honda power unit – which Red Bull is using for the first time in 2019. In addition, his engine engineer has moved over from Faenza to Milton Keynes with him. Gasly has a familiarit­y with the Japanese manufactur­er’s working practices and culture, learning much when he spent most of 2017 racing in Super Formula in Japan.

Gasly made a surprise F1 debut in Malaysia that year when Daniil Kvyat was dropped by Toro Rosso, and he was surprised again when he was promoted to Red Bull for this season when Dan Ricciardo made his unexpected decision to quit the team for Renault.

“When [Red Bull consultant] Dr Marko called me I could not believe it,” says Gasly about the turn of events last August that led to his drive at RBR. “I was so sure he [Ricciardo] was going to stay at Red Bull. At first Marko told me they were going to take their time and look at the options for next year – he said to enjoy the summer break and to try and disconnect from everything.

“Of course, it’s not possible when you have something like a Red Bull drive in your mind. I was waiting and there were two clear options, either to stay at Toro Rosso or move to Red Bull. Then Helmut called me back about two weeks later to say they had decided to take me for this year and that they thought I was the best option for the team for 2019.”

Gasly’s promotion has pitched him as a direct rival to his old friend Leclerc, but don’t expect their on-track duel to come between their friendship. Indeed, don’t be surprised to see the pair holidaying together again this year.

“We still text a lot, although it’s harder now with our agendas to organise things, but every year we try and plan a trip away together in the summer,” says Gasly. “It didn’t happen last year, but we’ll try again this year.”

Better make sure they book the plane tickets at the same time then, to avoid any more lastminute seat-swapping…


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