Scuderia AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly has said that having a rookie team-mate in Yuki Tsunoda last season led to more responsibility being placed on his shoulders.
The Frenchman was signed to Toro Rosso late in 2017 to replace the struggling Daniil Kvyat; the Russian was dropped from the Red Bull programme having been demoted from the main team the previous year.
Gasly was kept on for 2018 and, following a hugely impressive season, joined Red Bull ahead of the 2019 season.
However, he endured a horrible half-season partnering Max Verstappen, often finding himself over half-a-second slower than the Dutchman.
Frequent mistakes and a failure to score a podium – while Verstappen scored five with two wins – resulted in Gasly being dropped in the summer break that year.
He scored an emotional podium with the junior team in Brazil a few months later, and had another solid season last year – which included a remarkable maiden victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
This earned him a further run with the team in 2021, but he was understandably disappointed to have missed out on being promoted back to Red Bull Racing after having had such a strong year.
The 25-year-old scored another podium in Baku this year, and was consistently a strong qualifier, out-pacing rookie team-mate Tsunoda 21-1.
He was often the standout driver and finished an impressive ninth in the Drivers’ Standings.
Reflecting on 2021, Gasly credits his impressive season to finding a setup that worked for both Saturday and Sunday.
“I think the balance between quali and race, you can’t adjust the car, it’s a fine line,” Gasly said.
He does not believe that the car was quite as good in the race as it was in qualifying, so he was proud of the way in which he managed to develop a harmony over the course of the weekend:
“I think our car was generally strong in quali more than the race, and finding in terms of set-up and potential to extract the maximum, I feel I’ve made a step, you get more confident, this year was probably my most consistent year.”
Also important to the young Frenchman was limiting the number of mistakes he made, and thus vindicating his place on the grid in 2021.
“You always make mistakes but you try and reduce them and maximise the opportunities you have, so I feel this year I made a step. For me the key point this year was really carrying for another [full] year with a team, which was the first time it happened for me in Formula 1,” Gasly said.
He conceded that having a rookie team-mate in Tsunoda was a challenge and that it altered his role within the team.
However, he feels has utilised this to better understand the technical side of things, which will benefit him in the long run.
“So we had a lot better understanding of what we need from each other with the group of engineers, and also having a bit more impact with what I need from the car – obviously with Yuki [Tsunoda] coming as a rookie, there was a bit more responsibility on the direction we take. I feel I’ve learned a lot technically, being more involved.”
Gasly and Tsunoda guided the Italian team to sixth in the Constructors’ Championship last campaign, and the pair will race alongside each other again for the 2022 season.