This was a season of two dramatically different halves for Gasly. He struggled in his half-season alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull and too often couldn’t rise decisively clear of the midfield.
But after a potentially career-breaking relegation back to Toro Rosso, he was a midfield standout in the second half of the year – culminating in that redemptive second place in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Gasly is fast, there’s no doubt about that, his Toro Rosso form reminded us of that. But Red Bull exposed his limitations as he struggled to adapt his style and frustrated the team by heading down set-up rabbit holes.
How does the same driver go from being a flop of the first half of the season to one of the success stories of the second? After being crushed by Max Verstappen, on average just over half a second quicker in qualifying, and too often struggling to beat the lead midfielders, Gasly rediscovered his magic once back at Toro Rosso.
“Pierre adapted really quickly,” says Toro Rosso technical director Jody Egginton of Gasly’s return. “We knew him and it’s a strength of the mentality of the team that we’re quite good at driver changes. Pierre fitted back in but also put some very good performances in. He had a tough time at Red Bull, but I can only gauge him on what he’s done with us and he’s delivering. It’s different environments.”
On the track, this really was a different Gasly. He was only out-qualified by team-mate Daniil Kvyat once where comparisons are appropriate. The Toro Rosso generally responded well to his attacking driving style and he was generally happier with it on the edge than Kvyat was.
This culminated in an outstanding performance at Interlagos, where his second place was a product of the good fortune of frontrunners hitting trouble but also of bossing the midfield.
“Rather than getting depressed by the move, he embraced it in a positive light,” says Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “He still had a drive in Formula 1, he hadn't been released totally from the Red Bull programme and he responded very well to that in a less pressured environment, in perhaps a slightly easier car.”
His time at Red Bull was very different. He struggled to tune the car for a set-up compromise and spent too much time tinkering with such details – also making as many as seven different seats during his half-season. He was aggressive, often braking later than Verstappen but inducing understeer, not getting the car rotated then struggling with getting the power down as a result.
The feeling within Red Bull was that he wasn’t adapting his style and his approach, something that was in contrast to what Alex Albon did in his place. That said, Albon was only a tenth or so closer to Verstappen in qualifying, so given the Red Bull was less strong in the first half of the season perhaps Gasly’s performances weren’t as diabolical as they might have seemed.