When Red Bull announced over the summer break that Alexander Albon would be stepping up to its senior team for the remainder of the season to replace the struggling Pierre Gasly, there was a fear history would repeat itself.

Three years on from Daniil Kvyat’s identical demotion back to Toro Rosso to make room for Max Verstappen, there was a need for Red Bull to manage things better this time around. Evidently struggling with the impact of the demotion, Kvyat spent the next season-and-a-bit trying – and failing – to find his feet. Arguably, it wasn’t until his shock podium at this year’s German Grand Prix that he truly did.

Gasly’s first appearance before the media back in Toro Rosso colours at Spa saw him cut a dejected figure. The fact he could remember the precise time of Helmut Marko’s phone call – 8:42am – spoke volumes. It felt like a slippery slope, one that Kvyat slipped down before.

But in his first four races back at Toro Rosso, Gasly has shown few signs of going the same way his now-teammate did. He has slipped back into the team seamlessly, appearing at ease once more.

“I was really impressed with the way they welcomed me back,” Gasly tells Crash.net. “They really pushed massively to make me feel comfortable, to try to make me feel at home, and give me the best tools to perform at our best for the first race.

“It obviously wasn’t easy, discovering a new car in FP1 and to deliver straight from the beginning. I must say they have been really good, and so far it has been really positive.”

With just 10 months passing between Gasly’s last 2018 Toro Rosso appearance and his return, the team remains largely the same. The Frenchman is working with what was Brendon Hartley’s side of the garage, giving him some new colleagues to get to know, but the lack of wider change has certainly eased his return. “At least it’s not like I landed in a brand-new environment, even though I work with some new people,” Gasly says. “They are still faces I know and still the same philosophy, still the same mentality which works well.”

Gasly’s return to Toro Rosso comes amid its most successful season for some time. The team currently sits sixth in the constructors’ championship, putting it on-course to match its best-ever finish from 2008. Thirteen more points in the final five races will mark a new high score for a season. All of this has only galvanised the team, something Gasly notes and relishes.

“They are pushing massively,” he says. “They are also excited to be in that position because we have something big to defend. For everybody it means a lot. There is no extra pressure or anything. You just feel that everybody is really focused on what we need to do, but it’s the same atmosphere as last year.

Gasly wasted little time in contributing to the team’s bid to defend its constructors’ position, picking up points in Belgium and Singapore - the latter arguably being his best performance of the season – and has outqualified Kvyat 3-1.

Managing all of this while adapting to a new car and changing his references looks impressive, but for Gasly, it’s nothing less than he expected.

“On my side, things didn’t change,” he says. “I always try to do the best on my side and see how I can improve myself as a driver, and how I can deliver better. I would say this has not changed. It’s the same in Red Bull or Toro Rosso, I would not say there is less pressure. You are always a Red Bull driver. You always need to deliver at your best and the best performance you can."

One perk of returning to Toro Rosso is that Gasly will get to spend more time in Italy, a country he has chosen to make his home. He bought an apartment in Milan last year before a move up to Red Bull was even a consideration, and has been splitting time this season between Normandy and Bologna. (I joke he’s now got a far shorter commute, to which Gasly laughs – he can see the bright side…)

“I always loved Italy since I was little,” Gasly says. “When you’re in karting, you spend a lot of time there at all the Italian tracks. I did spend a lot of time there. I like the weather, the food, the passion that all the people have. My girlfriend also lives in Italy. It’s just the family spirit you get here.”

Gasly has worked with various nationalities in recent years across GP2, Super Formula and F1. But the Italian family spirit is something he feels strongly at Toro Rosso.

“You feel the passion in all the mechanics and engineers, and a bit more like the Italian culture there,” he says. “I think in my career so far, I’ve been working with really different groups. Every year I had to change teams, so I’ve been working with French people, with Italian, with English, with Japanese. And you can feel that it’s not the same way of communicating, the same way of working, the same way of having a relationship as well with the people.

“It’s quite interesting to have the chance to see these different approaches. But I think that’s the mentality, a bit more Italian style in Toro Rosso.”

With a view to 2020, Gasly’s future is yet to be set in stone. Helmut Marko said in Singapore that he was still in contention for the Red Bull seat, with the decision between him and the incumbent Albon. With so much to focus on at Toro Rosso and adjusting to life in a new team, though, Gasly is paying little attention to what next year may hold.

“Switching to Toro Rosso and another team, there are a lot of things you need to get on top of,” he says. “It’s important for myself not to be looking for something that is impossible with the car we have. I really need to be objective with the car that we have, that is why I need to reset all my references.

“At the moment I’m just focused on the job with Toro Rosso. I’m confident that I can deliver the best performance for them, to deliver the best of myself for these guys to get the best result possible for them.

“It’s the only thing I’m thinking of at the moment, taking it race by race and learning from each session to really feel the consistency to extract the maximum from this car. I’m just focused on delivering my best performances for the guys.”

If Gasly were to remain with Toro Rosso for 2020 - as, given Albon’s solid start at Red Bull, seems likely – then it would offer the Frenchman something his career has lacked of late: stability. His rise through the Red Bull junior programme was steady, featuring side-steps across Formula Renault 3.5, GP2 and then Super Formula, before accelerating rapidly to land a front-of-the-grid seat in F1.

“Since my first year in Formula 4, I have moved every single year,” Gasly says. “I’ve been working every single year with new people, and it’s true that you build relationships. With some of them you carry it for many years. But then afterwards you start with brand-new people from zero, and then after one year it stops, and then you need to do this all again. Of course this takes energy and time, and you can’t focus on other things that could make you better.

“For sure, a bit of stability will not be a bad thing, but at the same time, what a driver needs to do as well to adapt to all these different situations. We’ll see what happens in the future.”

As Toro Rosso continues to grow stronger and chase the front of F1’s midfield, Gasly may be well-placed with the team for the future. The more forgiving nature of the STR14 car is working to his benefit, certainly. But it is also the career stability offered and the strength of the team’s Italian family spirit that would play to his advantage for next year were he to remain where he is.

It may well be the cure to Gasly’s career motion sickness.

 

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