Few will have experienced the emotional rollercoaster that Formula One driver Pierre Gasly did in 2019.
Six months into his first season with Red Bull the Frenchman was demoted back to their junior team, Toro Rosso. The same weekend his close friend, Anthoine Hubert, was killed in a horrific crash in Formula Two.
“Last year was a really intense year for me, professionally and personally,” Gasly tells City A.M. “This was probably one of the saddest moments I’ve had in my life. Then a couple of months later, one of the best days of my life with my first podium in Formula One.”
The 24-year-old ended the season on a high with second place at the Brazilian Grand Prix, behind only Max Verstappen, in whose shadow he toiled at Red Bull.
“As a kid you dream about being a Formula One driver, then being on the podium. When it happens it feels crazy. After the line all the emotions came through because it had been such a rollercoaster of a year. I’ve been tested mentally a lot.”
‘Every one of us was responsible’
Red Bull’s decision to swap Gasly for British-born youngster Alex Albon, accompanied by scathing criticism from head of driver development Helmut Marko, still does not sit well with him.
“It’s not something I want to talk [about] too much. During this six months many things didn’t go well. I was partly responsible, and the team also know every one of us was responsible for the lack of performance.”
One person who can relate to Gasly’s case is Daniil Kvyat, who lines up alongside him at this weekend’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix for the rebranded AlphaTauri team, renamed after Red Bull’s fashion label.
The Russian, too, was demoted just four races into his second campaign with Red Bull in 2016 and later dropped from the programme altogether.
Kvyat, 25, spent 2018 away from the limelight as a Ferrari test driver before returning to Toro Rosso last year. A podium finish in Germany capped one of his best and most consistent campaigns to date.
“I was not sure when I was coming back to F1 or how it would go, so there were question marks,” Kvyat tells City A.M. “[The year out] was a mental break, a mental disconnection for me. You can look at things from a different perspective and regain your love and passion. I came back with new energy.”
While Kvyat is reluctant to be drawn on his desire to return to Red Bull or whether he felt he should have replaced Gasly ahead of rookie Albon, his team-mate has no doubt where his future lies.
“That’s the plan,” Gasly says of a return to the senior team. “I want to fight for wins. I’m sure that when the opportunity comes we’ll do things very differently. But as a driver, my goal is to be in the fastest car I can, which is the Red Bull.”
For AlphaTauri, this year will be about building on last year’s sixth place finish in the constructors’ championship in what is likely to be another competitive midfield battle.
For Gasly and Kvyat, however, the focus is on proving that they can withstand Red Bull’s school of hard knocks and deserve a second shot in a championship-contending seat.