2016 was kind to Pierre Gasly. The Frenchman became the FIA GP2 World Champion and impressed us all with his natural talent for driving and showing ambition that is leaving fans and media hoping he will soon land himself in Formula 1.
I caught up with Gasly to talk about his year in motorsport earlier in the week. From taking the crown of GP2 Champion in Abu Dhabi last month to being involved in a car accident ahead of the Silverstone weekend, Gasly shares his highs and lows about his year exclusively on katyfairman.com.
Katy Fairman: How important is it to keep a good mental attitude throughout the season?
Pierre Gasly: I’m a positive person in life about everything. Of course there is always a bit of negative in most situations but I always try and turn it into something positive. I like to get the best out of it and try to improve myself. For me it’s really important to stay positive and actually this season I had many situations where things didn’t really go our way and we had to look at all the positives to stay confident and in a positive mood to keep fighting until the end and it worked pretty well.
KF: What do you get up to before we see you at pre-season testing?
PG: Actually before pre-season testing you try to get as fit as possible with training so over the winter you don’t have so much to do except simulator preparation, so it’s a good time to work really hard on your physical condition and try to actually push really hard on training. So that’s what I do with Red Bull, they use me in the simulator to give me the chance to help model the team and also to get myself ready for the season. You also need to spend time with the team. Most of the time it’s a new team and every year you need to get to know people in the team and build the confidence and the good relationship with everyone so I need to spend time at the factory. Then it’s a lot about waiting, waiting for the first test and the first race which is always a bit annoying but it is part of it.
KF: You then visited Jordan with Red Bull and did a demonstration in the RB7, with which Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 Formula 1 Championship. How much fun was that?
PG: Yeah that was pretty cool because Jordan is not the kind of big nation you would normally visit, so it was a good opportunity to have a look. It was my first experience in the country so it was a lot of fun. You don’t often get the chance to drive a F1 car and do some burn outs and in a really nice place . We aslo stayed in a nice hotel. I had a great time over the two to three days and enjoyed the chance to discover new things, a new culture, a new county and it’s always nice to have these chances.
KF: What other opportunities did you have with sponsors this year?
PG: Well actually with Red Bull you will always have events throughout the season with F1 cars so that’s pretty good. Actually compared to last year, I haven’t been so busy with events I’ve been busier with media. I’m either doing media work with the team during the race weekend or they use me quite a lot when I go to the races as a reserve driver. When I’m not racing in GP2 I have quite a lot of free time, we often try to do some work during this free time for me. That’s it more or less.
KF: Your racing year started in Barcelona in May. You found yourself fastest in practice and qualifying, then finished third in race one and second in race two. Do you count these as good results?
PG: Yeah I would say it was a positive beginning for PREMA. It was their first season in GP2 so we expected to struggle a little bit at the beginning of the year but we started well straight away so that meant pole position. It was our target before the season and we knew it would be difficult to be at the top straight away but we did it and for us it was a brilliant weekend. Of course it would have been better to win the first race and as I started on pole, this was my target. At a first the success from the weekend didn’t seem that good, but then after the weekend looking back it was actually a really good first race weekend. Our season started on a good base and we got to learn a lot of things during this first weekend and that’s what we improved for the rest of the season. Overall it was a positive weekend.
KF: After Barcelona you found yourself testing with Scuderia Toro Rosso. When you are testing the Formula 1 cars, does it make you want to work even harder to get into F1?
PG: When you test a Formula 1 car it is always amazing and it’s what I want to do with my life. I love it. All the time I am doing laps in the car, I just know this is the thing I love the most. Not many opportunities happen around the season to drive these cars, so you really have to be at your best level and try to do the best work as possible for the team. You need to put your emotions to one side. It’s always an amazing time to drive these incredible cars but you need to focus on the job and deliver the best performance as possible. It’s really important for the teams to use these days too. You need to focus on the target and work it out and also try to enjoy your laps.
KF: After Monac0, the GP2 Championship visited Azerbaijan. What did you make of the circuit?
PG: I thought it was a really good track. It’s always exciting when you visit a new track and you discover new things. It’s also good as a driver to see something new. It was also my first time in this country so it’s always exciting to see new stuff. The track itself was quite interesting as you had a really long straight line – the longest of the year – so many overtaking possibilities and it was right in the middle of the city. It was different to Monaco because Baku is wider, I mean it’s wider in some places but also more narrow in other places. It’s full of different technical corners and over all I really liked it.
KF: Later on in June you spent time at Goodwood for the Festival of Speed. You did the hill climb in the RB8. Did you enjoy your time at Goodwood?
PG: It was my second time at Goodwood. I did it already the year before and it’s just an amazing event. You get to see so many different cars and bikes from the past and from different generations. Every time I go there I’m like a kid and I want to look at everything. It’s a really cool event.
KF: July was probably your busiest month of the year, with four GP2 race weekends squeezed in. How do you keep yourself fit and healthy with such a demanding schedule?
PG: Well actually that was really difficult because we had to travel all the time and with all the races we didn’t have any time to rest and to recover. All you can do is try to get as much sleep as you can. When you had slots during the day you train and you try but you can’t give your maximum in the gym because you need to save your energy for the races. It was an important balance to find between how much we could train and how much we could rest and all around the travelling. Red Bull have really good trainers with us which advise us on what to do and what we can’t do and we manage this pretty well but it was definitely the most intense month I had in terms of races and in my car.
KF: After your weekend in Spielberg, Austria you and your team headed to the next round in Silverstone. I heard whilst you travelled to the British round you were involved in a really nasty car accident and you hurt your back. Is this true?
PG: It was actually about two hours before free practice, so from the hotel to the racetrack. My trainer was driving and my family was in the car and I was sat in the back in the middle. We were half way to the track and we were following someone for about five miles and the guy just put his indicator to head left so my coach started to overtake him and then when we were next to him [the other driver] just made a U-turn to the right. We couldn’t do anything, you could not have predicted it. So when he turned into us the front of the car flipped over four times. That was probably the worst moment of the season. I broke one of my vertebrae and my mother was really badly injured – she is still not fully recovered now. I think it will take time for her to heal because she broke many things. It was quite bad.
KF: It must have been a strange weekend going from a real low to a pretty big high as at Silverstone your scored your maiden GP2 win. How was that first win?
PG: In terms of emotions it was huge. After that crash, honestly, I was feeling really strange but also really motivated to have a good weekend. My mother was in intensive care all the weekend and I didn’t know how she was most of the time. I also didn’t have any support at the track because my coach stayed at the hospital most of the time and so to get that first win was unbelievable. I felt it was really important to do well for my mother as she was really bad at the time and it felt so good to win that first race. It was quite strange because I couldn’t really celebrate it properly.
KF: Were you relived to win or did you find the media put even more pressure on you to win the championship?
PG: The target from the beginning of the season was to win the championship so the win didn’t really add any more pressure. I felt like, from the beginning of the season, that the first win was close as we’d had good performances every weekend – it was just a matter of putting everything together. It took time but we kept working it out with the team and finally we got that win in Silverstone. We were close in Barcelona and close in Baku and then again in the Red Bull Ring. I could feel the win was closer and closer though. It also put us in a better position for the championship so everything seemed to be going well.
KF: From Great Britain to Budapest, your performance was getting stronger and stronger. You took pole and another race win. Did you enjoy your time in Hungary?
PG: Hungary was a really strong weekend. Fastest in Free Practice, I took pole by five tenths too. It was a really good start to the weekend and to win in race one made it two wins in two weekends. That was amazing and as a result there was more and more confidence in the team. Of course at the start of the season we has to learn to work together and we learnt really quickly what we needed to do to become competitive. Since our time at the Red Bull Ring we kept getting stronger. We managed to put everything together and when we did it, it worked out well for us.
KF: In Hockenheim you took third place during the feature race when it was unfortunately announced that you would receive a penalty as the fire extinguisher was empty. How frustrating was that?
PG: It was so tough. The last race I had anti-stall at the start so I had dropped a lot, I think I was twelfth in the first lap and so I fought really hard in the race. I thought it was one of my best races of the season to recover and then once you’ve done your best, to find that they knew my fire extinguisher went out during the race and they didn’t do anything! I finished the race and found out after when I was having dinner with my father and my trainer when I got the phone call. When you are fighting so hard in the championship it’s really difficult to learn you’ve just lost 15 points like this. I then had to start last for the second race. All my contenders for the championship were in good positions, including Antonio Giovinazzi, and I lost good points during that race which was frustrating but once again you have to look at the positives.
KF: More race wins came your way as the season finale came closer. What was your favourite win of the season?
PG: Abu Dhabi. It was the last weekend and I had a lot of support from my family there, especially my mother after that crash. She wasn’t feeling well but she came anyway and all my brothers too, I was great just to have my family with me for the last weekend of the season that saw me fighting for the championship.
KF: How do you approach a weekend like Abu Dhabi knowing it could change your life?
PG: After Malaysia, after the Sunday and race two, I was already thinking about that weekend in Abu Dhabi. I thought about it every day and every night and just hope I could improve and tried to prepare myself for that weekend. I tried to focus on every little thing that I could improve on that weekend and I felt that coming into Abu Dhabi I had done everything I could to be ready. I was looking forward to the weekend because it was a long break from Malaysia to Abu Dhabi and it is what you look forward to all year.
KF: What are your plans for next year?
PG: At the moment nothing is signed. We are looking at different options, especially Japan and the Super Formula. I know Red Bull is looking at a few teams so an option like this, like Stoffel had this season, we will make the time to wait for a year and then see if I can get into Formula 1 in 2018. I think that makes sense to go there. Let’s see where it goes.