If Pierre Gasly intends on delivering an early Christmas present for AlphaTauri — fifth place in the Formula One constructors’ standings — then what’s better than another fine finish at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix?
Gasly was a driver with something to prove when the race was last held at the Interlagos track in 2019. Red Bull Racing demoted the Frenchman back to their B team (then known as Toro Rosso) midway through the season and Brazil was where Gasly had his breakout performance. Gasly avoided an incident between Lewis Hamilton and his Red Bull Racing successor, Alex Albon, to slide into P2 then held off the Mercedes driver to the finish line by just 0.062 seconds to earn his first career podium finish.
The 25-year-old Gasly is currently ninth in the drivers’ championship with 86 points and on pace for a career-best total. Gasly has been a one-man wrecking crew for AlphaTauri, which hasn’t finished higher than sixth through all its various incarnations, keeping pace with Alpine as both teams are tied for fifth in the constructors’ with 106 points.
Given Gasly’s past performance at Interlagos and the heated battle with Alpine, he’s our Driver of Interest this week.
Date of Birth: Feb. 7, 1996 (25 years old)
Hometown: Rouen, France
Years in Formula One: 5
Car Number: 10
Career Wins: 1
2021 Standings: 9th, 86 points
AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, of France, drives his car during the qualifying run of the Formula One Mexico Grand Prix auto race at the Hermanos Rodriguez racetrack in Mexico City, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Fernando Llano/AP)
If AlphaTauri is going to top Alpine in the standings, Gasly is going to have to go it alone.
Teammate Yuki Tsunoda has struggled in his rookie season with just 20 points and only ahead of the backmarkers in the drivers’ standings.
Gasly accounts for 81.1 per cent of the team’s points, compared to rival Alpine where it’s more evenly split between Fernando Alonso (56.6 per cent) and friend-turned-foe Esteban Ocon (43.4 per cent).
That margin would be greater in Gasly’s favour if not for the three DNFs he’s sustained this season. Although not entirely his fault, Gasly left potential points on the table as he had qualified within the top 10 in all three races (Styrian, Italian and U.S. Grand Prix).
Speaking of qualifying, Gasly’s success can be traced there where he’s shown incredible speed in his Honda-powered machine grabbing a top-six spot on the starting grid 13 times through 18 races.
His P4 finish last weekend in Mexico City once again proved he can bring it on race day against the top teams as he fended off both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari. Gasly also earned the fastest lap point during the Hungarian Grand Prix in August en route to finishing fifth.
Expecting a podium result from someone who only has a trio of top-three finishes in his career might seem lofty — especially since he already hit his annual quota earlier this year in Baku — but Gasly’s career has been seemingly defined by potential.
Third place AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly of France celebrates on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Baku Formula One city circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool via AP)
Red Bull clipped his wings
You can’t talk about Gasly without mentioning the great demotion of 2019. Gasly lasted just 12 races with Red Bull Racing before they made the switch with Albon.
Did Red Bull give up on Gasly too soon or was he called up to the big club too early in the first place? When you have a teammate like Max Verstappen and you’re going to be constantly compared to someone who’s looking like a generational talent, Gasly was almost doomed to fail.
Gasly needed to rebuild confidence and mature into the driver he is today.
His best chance at success in the sport though lies right where he is waiting for another opening with the big club considering how others who left Red Bull have fared (see: Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo).
That will not happen next year, however, as Red Bull has already extended Verstappen and Sergio Perez for 2022 with Gasly and Tsunoda signed for another run with AlphaTauri. Of course, there could always be a mid-season replacement, but how often does something like that happen? Oh, wait.
Five fast facts
• His, hers and theirs: Gasly is the baby of the family and has two half brothers, Nicolas Caron and Cyril Caron, from his mother’s previous marriage and another two half brothers, Phillipe Gasly and Paul Gasly, from his father’s previous marriage.
• Although from Rouen, France, Gasly left home at age 13 to join a school program in Le Mans where he became good friends with the late Anthoine Hubert, who was killed in a Formula 2 crash on Aug. 31, 2019. Gasly now lives in Milan, Italy.
• Pun intended, Gasly is a good “fit” for AlphaTauri, named after Red Bull’s fashion brand. He told GQ U.K.: “I love fashion. Obviously, I’m an ambassador for AlphaTauri and it’s been great working on that project and increasing my knowledge about the whole process, the design, the materials, even into the production side of it. I get a lot of satisfaction in seeing all the creativity of each brand and designer.
“It’s a world I enjoy. And obviously in Milan fashion is so big that you always have events there that you can go and see. I like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Balenciaga … every week is different for me and I like to match what I wear with my mood. The time I’m at the track is obviously different from when I’m at home, but fashion is very important to me in my personal life.”
• Gasly became the first F1 driver to drop his own line of NFTs last month highlighting his 2020 Italian GP victory and podium finishes at Baku and Brazil.
• Gasly enjoys watching Netflix, so how does he feel about his portrayal in Drive to Survive? “I watch a lot of Netflix, so seeing yourself in a Netflix series is kind of unusual,” Gasly told NBC Sports. “But as a whole, I really liked the fact that Netflix focused on the personalities of the drivers, which is something that doesn’t obviously come out when you watch the races on Sunday. … I like the fact they focused on the personality and who we are as persons and humans, rather than just the driver itself. I think it was great.”
F1 Drivers of Interest: All eyes on Verstappen, Hamilton in finale for title
The producers of Netflix’s Drive to Survive couldn’t have come up with a better storyline for the final race of the 2021 Formula One season.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes enter Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tied atop of the standings for the world championship with 369.5 points apiece.
Combine that with all the drama both drivers have dished on and off the track and you have the most intense F1 title chase in recent memory (and people say I have a really good memory).
Verstappen and Hamilton have finished 1-2 in six of the past seven races since their frightening collision in the Monza Grand Prix. Hamilton had just exited the pits right ahead of Verstappen. The two battled wheel-to-wheel and locked up into the turn with Verstappen flying on top of Hamilton’s car. Fortunately, the rollover hoop prevented Hamilton from sustaining any serious injuries.
Since then Verstappen and Hamilton have continued to tango on the track. It’s debatable whether or not Verstappen intentionally attempted to run Hamilton off in Brazil. Then there was the “brake test” incident just last week in Saudi Arabia when Verstappen had to give up a spot and slowed down, catching Hamilton off guard as he ran right into the back of the Dutch driver.
Simply put, we couldn’t ignore Verstappen and Hamilton for our “Driver(s) of Interest” season finale. Here’s why either driver could win the world championship plus a quick history lesson on why this is one for the record books.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain crashes with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix, at Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy, Sunday, Sept.12, 2021. (Luca Bruno/AP)
Why Verstappen could win the world championship
Although both drivers are currently even in points, Verstappen holds the tiebreaker with more race victories: nine to eight.
Look, we’re not going to rule anything out. It’s possible neither driver scores points (like in Azerbaijan) or even finishes the race (cough Monza cough).
There’s also the possibility Verstappen finishes ninth (netting two points) and Hamilton finishes P10 (one point) plus claims the fastest lap bonus point to keep both drivers all square. Hey, anything can happen in Formula One.
Verstappen is also the defending race winner at the Yas Marina Circuit — leading all 55 laps from pole position to chequered flag — although modifications have been made to the track in a few of the turns so it’s not quite as simple as copying and pasting the script from last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Qualifying is always key and Verstappen holds the edge over Hamilton there as well this season taking pole position eight times to five.
Don’t let his youth, brashness and fiery temper on the track fool you as “Mad Max” has 19 career race victories and actually holds the distinction as the driver with the most all-time wins without a world championship. At age 24, Verstappen’s time is now.
Why Hamilton could win the world championship (again)
While Verstappen seeks his first, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth driver’s title.
Hamilton tied the great Michael Schumacher last season after winning his seventh and an eighth — plus fifth in a row — would be unprecedented.
His past four have been won with relative ease, none of them went down to the wire like this, and Hamilton will have to bring his A, B and C games to fend off Verstappen.
Verstappen has more wins this season, but Hamilton enters Abu Dhabi with the momentum having won the past three consecutively including back-to-back from pole position in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. That streak also erased a 19-point hold Verstappen had on first place.
Although Verstappen is the defending race winner, Hamilton has been victorious in Abu Dhabi more times than anyone else with five wins including 2018 and 2019.
Hamilton has also scored the fastest lap bonus more times this year (six to four) and you just know those pesky points will continue to come into play.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, right, celebrates from the podium after winning with second-place Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain from the podium during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Sunday, June 20, 2021.
A brief history of time
• This is the first time two drivers have entered the final race of the season tied for first in the standings since 1974 when McLaren’s Emerson Fittipaldi and Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni were even at the top. The U.S. Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., served as the finale with Fittipaldi finishing fourth, ahead of Regazzoni in 11th, to claim the title.
• Can Con: The battle between Verstappen and Hamilton conjures up memories of Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve’s title victory in 1997. Schumacher led by only one point heading into the finale in Jerez, Spain, and literally attempted to fend off Villeneuve to the point of collision. Villeneuve held it together to finish third in the race to claim the championship although Schumacher, who was forced to retire from the race, was blamed for the incident and stripped of all his points that season.
• In terms of more recent history, it’s the first year the title will be decided in the final race since 2016. Nico Rosberg led Mercedes teammate/rival Hamilton by 12 points. Hamilton won the race from pole position, however, Rosberg finished second to secure his first (and only) world championship. Rosberg announced his shocking retirement just five days later.
• Verstappen was the youngest to win a Grand Prix but he isn’t going to be the youngest to win the world championship. That record will remain with Sebastian Vettel, who claimed his first in 2010 at age 23. Should Verstappen win it Sunday, he would be fourth on the list behind Vettel, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
• There’s also the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull for the constructors’ championship. Mercedes holds a 28-point advantage as the German manufacturer aims for a record-extending eighth consecutive title. That would also put them in a tie with McLaren for third on the all-time list with Williams just one spot ahead in second place and nine titles. Mercedes still has a ways to go to catch Ferrari in first place with 16.
• Never say never and should Red Bull claim the constructors, it would be its first since capping a four-peat in 2013. It would also be engine manufacturer Honda’s first since 1991.
• What if Verstappen wins the driver’s championship and Mercedes win the constructors? It’s been done 10 times, most recently in 2008 when Hamilton captured his first driver’s title with McLaren while Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa helped Ferrari claim the constructor’s championship. Massa finished the season victorious on his home track in Brazil, however, he needed Hamilton to finish no better than fifth place in order to claim the driver’s championship. Guess where Hamilton finished? C’mon, you know it. Hamilton finished right in fifth place to edge Massa on points 98-97.
Driver of Interest: Bottas key for Mercedes, Hamilton in championship chases
Before Valtteri Bottas bids “hyvästi” to Mercedes, the Finnish driver plays a crucial role in helping the German juggernaut in its historic bid for a record-extending eighth straight Formula One constructors’ championship and teammate Lewis Hamilton in his quest for a record-breaking eighth drivers’ title.
The 2021 campaign has been the most difficult with Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing providing a formidable challenge for both coveted trophies. Verstappen tops the standings, eight points ahead of Hamilton, and Red Bull is only five points back of Mercedes for the constructors’ with two races remaining.
Mercedes is counting on Bottas, who has been the quintessential teammate and a consummate professional, even with one foot out the door as he’s set to join Alfa Romeo next season.
Despite a career-high four retirements in 2021, including the most recent Qatar Grand Prix, Bottas is third with a victory in Turkey and 10 total podium finishes.
While Hamilton and Verstappen are sure to battle down to the wire, Bottas can do his part to aid his teammate should he find himself in a position on the track that benefits the greater good, e.g. letting Hamilton pass him or making an extra late pit stop for fresh tires to try and swipe the fastest lap point from Verstappen.
Bottas also has to hold off Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who’s in fourth place and 13 points behind.
Here are some interesting facts and stats about Bottas ahead of Sunday’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the penultimate race of the season.
Date of Birth: Aug. 28, 1989 (32 years old)
Hometown: Nastola, Finland
Years in Formula One: 9 (fifth season with Mercedes)
Car Number: 77
Career Wins: 10
2021 Standings: 3rd place, 203 points
Third place finisher Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, of Finland, pours champagne over teammate and winner of the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton. (Lars Baron/AP)
RIP Sir Frank
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix will be emotional for all in the F1 paddock as it’ll be the first race since the passing of Sir Frank Williams, who founded the team that bears his name and was at the helm of a combined 16 drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Williams died last month at age 79. Drivers paid tribute on social media including Bottas, who got his start in Formula One with Williams’ team.
Bottas tweeted, “Sad news today. Thank you for everything Frank. You will be missed. Rest in peace,” and also posted a photo of himself with Williams.
Alfa Romeo, really?
It might seem bizarre on the surface for Bottas to leave the top team on the track for one that’s been struggling for points, never mind podiums, but there is a method to his madness.
It’s obvious George Russell, currently at Williams, is the heir apparent at Mercedes and the writing’s been on the wall. Russell was part of Mercedes’ junior program and filled in admirably during the Sakhir Grand Prix last season when Hamilton was out with COVID-19.
For Bottas, it’s about needing a fresh start.
“It’s something new, something exciting for me and it’s a bit of a project,” Bottas told Formula1.com. “No doubt there’ll be work to do, I’ll give all the expertise I can to try and improve from this season for sure.”
He added: “Realistically to fight for the wins next year is going to be unrealistic, but you never know. There’s a regulation change, there’s a big bunch of motivated people and we’ll give it everything we can to get as close to the front, or to the front, as soon as possible.”
Plus, for all the doubters about the move out there, you know Bottas would love to shut down his critics again with another “To Whom It May Concern” celebration.
There’s a simple explanation for why Bottas chose No. 77, partially because of (but not in tribute to) fellow Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen.
“I liked seven, so I thought 77 would be good,” Bottas said in an Ask Me Anything video. “And actually seven was already taken by Kimi. So then I just thought double seven would be good.”
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) November 21, 2021
Blue (Da Ba Dee)
Although Bottas’ racing idol growing up was two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, a different driver from that era inspired his helmet: Olivier Panis.
“I was watching all of the races on TV, and he had this great race in Monaco and also very close to that time he had a big accident and broke his legs,” Bottas told MercedesAMGF1.com. “He recovered really quickly and I just thought he was a tough guy. I am a big fan of blue, too, so I also really liked his design and copied it.”
A different kind of racing
During F1’s summer break in August, Bottas took part in his first gravel cycling race in Colorado and finished second in his age group and fifth overall on the 64-mile course.
His girlfriend, Tiffany Cromwell, is a pro rider and finished eighth on the 144-mile route.
What an event yesterday! Enjoyed my first gravel race a lot. Ended up 5th out of 500+ riders on the line for the 64mile red course, and 2nd in my age group @tiffanycromwell was a hero again completing the black course in women’s top 10 #VB77 #sbtgrvl pic.twitter.com/QkUqPRIP1o
— Valtteri Bottas (@ValtteriBottas) August 16, 2021
If he wasn’t a driver …
Bottas would have liked to have been a hockey player and played for almost a decade growing up but had to make the difficult decision choosing one sporting career path over the other.
“When you’re playing hockey, it gets more and more professional as you get older and move up,” Bottas told NHL.com. “So, then I chose to focus only on racing. But, hockey still holds a special place in my heart.”
Bottas is a fan of the Montreal Canadiens and joined them at their practice facility in 2017 to compete in a race against Habs forward Paul Byron. Bottas is quite the slick skater, actually.
F1 Driver of Interest: Can Ferrari’s Sainz continue points streak in Qatar?
Who has the longest active points streak in Formula One? Here’s a hint: he’s our driver of interest this week.
Carlos Sainz has finished in the points during the past 12 consecutive races, a remarkable run for the Spanish driver in his first year with Ferrari.
Steady Sainz has actually completed all 19 races so far this season collecting points in 17 of them. By a stroke of bad luck, the two races Sainz didn’t finish within the top 10, he ended up just on the outside both times in P11.
F1 heads to Losail International Circuit for Sunday’s inaugural Qatar Grand Prix and it’ll be intriguing to see if Sainz can maintain his momentum on a new track.
Date of Birth: Sept. 1, 1994 (27 years old)
Hometown: Madrid, Spain
Years in Formula One: 7 (first season with Ferrari)
Car Number: 55
Career Wins: 0
2021 Standings: 7th place, 139.5 points
Second place Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz of Spain celebrates with his trophy during the Monaco Grand Prix at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP)
How it started
Like a few others on the grid, Sainz is the son of a former driver: Carlos Sainz Sr., who’s a two-time world rally champion.
The younger Sainz was a fan of fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso, telling Formula1.com: “I met him in 2005 at the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona, and when I met him, I went back home and I told my Dad, ‘Dad, I want to be like Fernando Alonso one day.’”
Perhaps a little too literally. Sainz has followed in Alonso’s footsteps into F1 with eerily similar paths as both started out with Minardi/Toro Rosso before moving onto Renault, McLaren and then Ferrari. If that holds up, could Sainz one day return to McLaren and compete in the Indianapolis 500?
He signed his Ferrari contract in his PJs
Sainz told Motorsports.com the details of his contract signing with Ferrari and how due to COVID-19 and lockdowns, everything was handled via Zoom.
“We had been spending all the lockdown together with the family, and then suddenly one day I wake up around 8 a.m., and I’m still in my pyjamas,” Sainz said. “I come into this room, and I see that my dad is ready with a pen. He says: ‘You need to sign here: it is the Ferrari contract. And it’s done if you sign.’ So I signed it in my pyjamas at 8 a.m., just after waking up! I was like ‘Okay, good morning to you too.’”
Ferrari > McLaren
Consider Sainz crossing the paddock from McLaren to Ferrari this season as just another chapter in a storied book between two legendary teams with devoted fanbases.
Ferrari and McLaren have had some famous (and infamous) battles over the decades from Niki Lauda vs. James Hunt in 1976 to Mika Hakkinen vs. Michael Schumacher in the late ’90s to Felipe Massa vs. Lewis Hamilton in 2008.
Both teams are synonymous with success in Formula One although not so much lately having taken a back seat to Mercedes and Red Bull Racing.
Nevertheless, the rivalry was renewed for third place in the constructors’ standings, however, Ferrari has broken away of late. Lando Norris has scored the team’s only two points in Mexico and Brazil while Sainz and Charles Leclerc have combined for a whopping 37 points and given Ferrari a 31.5-point advantage over McLaren.
What McLaren has this season that Ferrari doesn’t is a race win. To add insult to injury, it came at Ferrari’s home track with Daniel Ricciardo and Norris finishing 1-2 at the Italian Grand Prix.
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, second from left, of Spain, and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, right, of Monaco, talk before taking free throw-attempts as former NBA players Chris Bosh, left, and Dikembe Mutombo, second from right, listen at the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix auto race at Circuit of the Americas, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (Darron Cummings/AP)
The streak almost ended in Brazil
Sainz’s points streak came close to ending early during last Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix when Norris made a bold attempt to pass him on the outside right at the start.
Although Sainz emerged unscathed, Norris sustained a punctured tire and was forced to nurse his car all the way around and into the pits for an emergency stop.
Sainz finished sixth after starting third while Norris was able to work his way up into P10 and score a point.
The other active streak
Sainz also leads another active driver record, although one more dubious: most races started without a win at 137.
He’s also ninth on the all-time list but has a long way to go to “catch” Andrea de Cesaris at 208.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz steers his car during the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Interlagos race track in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (Andre Penner/AP)
What better way to wrap this up than with the Sade song that came out 10 years before Sainz was even born but has become his theme.
The story goes that the song was stuck in Sainz’s head (and probably now yours) during the 2019 British Grand Prix and from there he started singing it again following other successful races.
After completing his final race with McLaren last season, he parted ways by belting the tune one last time.
That hasn’t stopped Ferrari from getting in on the fun.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) November 17, 2021
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