In the space of a few weeks, Pierre Gasly’s life was turned upside down. First came the crushing blow of his Red Bull demotion, followed by the tragedy of losing one of his dearest friends. But there is a steely resilience at the core of this Formula 1 driver…

Like many aspiring young racers, Gasly never had things come easy to him in his career. Both he and his family worked hard and had to make many sacrifices in order to turn his aspirations into reality. 

An impressive first full season in F1 with Toro Rosso earned Gasly his big break for 2019 as replacement for the Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo to become Max Verstappen’s new Red Bull teammate.

But his dream opportunity at Red Bull soon turned into a nightmare when he received a career-altering phone call at the start of the summer break, just 12 races into what had been a tricky first season at Milton Keynes.

In a matter of days, Gasly had lost his drive, gone through a burglary - the first of two robberies he would be the victim of in the space of a year - and was readying himself for a first race back in Toro Rosso colours when tragedy struck on Saturday afternoon at the Belgian Grand Prix. 

His close friend Anthoine Hubert was killed during a Formula 2 race at Spa-Francorchamps, rocking Gasly, the rest of the F1 paddock and the wider motorsport community.

SEE ALSO: F1 remembers lost star Hubert 12 months on from Spa tradegy.

“That period last year, In the space of two weeks I had so much shit happening,” Gasly told in an exclusive interview held ahead of an emotional return to Belgium. 

“I had the Red Bull news - the demotion, which obviously was a very different speech to what I had a couple of days before, because Red Bull was quite clear in telling me that I would stay until the end of the year and would make the changes that I had asked for at the time. It was a tough one.

“Three days later - I didn’t speak about it at the time - but my holiday place got robbed and I had some stuff stolen in the house which wasn’t a nice time. Then afterwards, coming to Spa with so many new things, a new team, new people to work with, and then on Saturday we lost Anthoine.

“For me it was very, very difficult. Already mentally it wasn’t easy but I think that was the toughest part. After that I knew my goal, where I want to go and what I want in my life. But I think I’ve never experienced anything as difficult as these couple of weeks.”

As Gasly himself admits, the events of those few weeks in the summer of 2019 could have left him “broken”, but he collected himself, learned from his mistakes and worked harder than ever before.

Gasly credits his never-give-up attitude to the tough times he experienced throughout his journey to F1, something which prepared him to deal with setbacks and bounce back stronger.

This is after all a driver who, after enjoying instant success in single-seaters, endured a winning drought that spanned nearly three years. Following victory-less campaigns in 2014 and 2015, Gasly finally returned to the top step of the podium at the Silverstone feature race mid-way through his second full season in GP2 in 2016.

His first victory in F1’s direct feeder series came on the same day he had been involved in a nasty car crash on his way to the track which resulted in his mother being hospitalised. That breakthrough result would prove to be the spark that set up a sensational second half of the campaign, and three further victories helped Gasly prevail to the crown.

It was a vital triumph for Gasly that would ultimately pave the way for his F1 chance at Toro Rosso at the backend of the following year. Having already made his F1 debut, Gasly would have likely ended the 2017 season as a champion in Japan’s Super Formula too had a typhoon threat not cancelled the final two races.

“It’s a lot about mentality and how you cope with that,” Gasly explained. “I’m not someone that gives up. I never give up for anything, especially when I have something clear in mind, when I have clear targets for myself.

“I know what I want from my life and I know where I want to be and I’ll always do everything I can to get there. That’s my mentality. For me, it was just a small step back on my road to my target.

“I always believe that you learn a lot more from challenges and failures than from success,” he added. “I think it’s fair to say that success never comes without any failures and I’m not scared of that. I’ve always had my setbacks, both personally and professionally. As a kid, when I was younger, I don’t think I had an easy path to Formula 1.

“It was a pretty stressful one for my family, for the people around me, for myself and I think that’s where my resilience came from.

"It would have been really easy just to be broken after the Red Bull demotion but if anything, I’ve taken all that negative energy and turned it into something positive to try to lift me up. And that’s what I managed to do.”

Less than 24 hours after Hubert’s death, Gasly charged from 16th on the grid to finish inside the points with P9 - a result that would kick-off the beginning of a remarkable turnaround in both form and confidence.

Gasly backed that up with further top-10 appearances in Singapore, Japan and Mexico, before he claimed a superb maiden podium in Brazil, beating the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton in a dramatic drag race to the line to grab second-place in a Honda-powered 1-2 behind his former Red Bull stablemate Verstappen.

And Gasly has translated his strong end to 2019 into the delayed 2020 season, becoming one of the standout drivers of the campaign thanks to a number of stunning displays.

He has so far achieved three Q3 appearances – something not managed by AlphaTauri teammate Daniil Kvyat - and four points hauls, including two P7 finishes from the opening seven races.

Gasly has scored all bar two of the 20 points managed by the Faenza squad so far in 2020 and overcame his first qualifying defeat to Kvyat in Belgium with a strong run to eighth place - including a breathtaking overtake on Sergio Perez’s Racing Point at Eau Rouge - that earned him the ‘driver of the day’ accolade.  

So what exactly has been the key to unlocking his new-found level of performance?

“I know the reasons and I don’t think I’ve changed anything dramatically,” Gasly said. “I’m someone who always questions myself. I review everything I do and I always look at things I can improve.

“In the areas I can, I get even better and I know I need to work on my weaknesses, but also on my strengths. I think I am someone who is quite objective on that and there’s always room for improvement in everything you do.

“But from Red Bull to AlphaTauri, I am having the same approach. I’m always pushing myself as hard as I can and trying to deliver the best from myself every weekend. The team is giving me all the tools I need to be competitive and that’s what we managed to do most of the time.

“Obviously last year to finish on a high in Brazil with the second place, it was clearly something unexpected and the best achievement of my career, being my first podium in F1.

“It was fantastic to finish the year like this after everything that happened and it was important to keep that momentum going into 2020, which is what we managed to do and hopefully we can keep doing that in the coming races.”

Across the past 12 months, Gasly has been able to wring every ounce of performance out of his car and extract the maximum time and time again, something he failed to do while at Red Bull. Occasionally, he has even outperformed the Red bull driven by Alex Albon, who swapped seats with Gasly last year.

Interestingly, Albon did the same thing to Gasly when the roles were reversed back in 2019. While Gasly remains tight-lipped on the exact reasons for his struggles at Red Bull, he suggested there was more going on than what was visible from the outside.

“I know exactly what it was but as I’ve said many times, I don’t want to come publicly with that,” Gasly stressed. “I don’t think it would be professional.

“But I’m sure if we need to do the whole thing again with Red Bull, there are many things we would do differently. There are certain things I would do differently myself, but at the end of the day, we both learned from it. I think this [reason], I prefer to keep it confidential.”

There are some striking similarities between Gasly and Albon’s respective situations at Red Bull. Both struggled with instability within the car and suffered crashes at high-speed, and neither have been unable to match Verstappen, particularly when it comes to qualifying on Saturday afternoons.

At the point Gasly was dropped he was sixth in the championship and had scored 63 points to Verstappen’s haul of 181. Verstappen had won two races and Gasly had finished no higher than fourth.

Fast-forward 12 months and Albon sits fourth in the championship with 48 points to his name - 62 fewer than Verstappen’s 110 having picked up a best result of fourth in Austria. In contrast, the Dutchman has been the only non-Mercedes driver to record a victory this year.

Both Gasly and Albon were backed over their form and provided assurances over their seat, but that didn’t stop Red Bull from parachuting Gasly back down to its sister team.

It is actions like this (and Kvyat’s demotion in 2016) which has gained Red Bull a reputation for throwing its stars into a high-pressure environment and for being ruthless in its approach to the handling of its drivers under the watchful eye of the often unsympathetic Helmut Marko.

Despite finding support from his bosses Christian Horner and Marko, speculation surrounding Albon’s future has failed to go away amid his own difficult patch at the team.

Naturally, the Anglo-Thai’s relative struggles compared to Verstappen, coincided with Gasly’s sublime start to 2020, have resulted in the rumour mill beginning to swirl into action once more.

Reflecting upon his own time within the Red Bull stable, Gasly said: “You are a lot more in the spotlight, especially in the top team, but I don’t think that’s really an issue. We are all strong.

“I think Alex has had to go through quite a lot of pressure in his childhood before making it to Formula 1. I know he’s fast but I know the reasons why we are not competitive in the Red Bull, why they were not happy and why I was not happy. I don’t know exactly what’s happening exactly for him and I don’t really want to speak for him.”

After the Belgian Grand Prix, Horner noted that Gasly has been “performing well” this season but believes AlphaTauri’s AT01 is easier to drive than the RB16 as he reiterated that Red Bull is currently “happy with the way things are” regarding its driver line-up.

Although Gasly insists he is not entertaining thoughts about a possible return to Red Bull, he is convinced he would be able to do a better job second time around given the progress he has made across the past 12 months.

“I am someone who is competitive and I want the fastest car possible in my hands,” he explained. “Since I was in karting, I [have] always fought for championships and for victories and pole positions.

“That’s what I want to do in Formula 1 as well. That’s my target but it’s not up to me to make the call for Red Bull, so we will see what happens.

“I think now we are in a much better position because we know what didn’t work, so I don’t think we would make the same mistakes if we are to do it again.

“There is unfinished business with them - I think we both know it.”