Pierre Gasly’s shock maiden victory at the Italian Grand Prix was one of Formula 1’s great David versus Goliath stories.

F1’s ability to surprise and for an underdog to triumph is one of the biggest draws of the championship which appeals to legions of fans from all over the world. An element of unpredictability breeds intrigue and excitement, something which rings true across all sports. 

It had been 2,730 days since F1 had witnessed anyone other than a Mercedes, Ferrari or a Red Bull winning a race, a run stretching back to Kimi Raikkonen’s victory for Lotus at the 2013 season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

AlphaTauri subsequently became the 35th different entity to win a race and the first new race-winning team since Red Bull in 2009, though the Faenza squad has of course won once before - at the same circuit back in 2008 courtesy of Sebastian Vettel under its former Toro Rosso guise.  

Gasly headed a remarkably diverse podium featuring an AlphaTauri, a McLaren and a Racing Point car. You have to go all the way back to the 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix, won by then McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, for the last time Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull failed to finish with a car inside the top three.

It was a pity that, due to the strict restrictions in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, fans were unable to bask under the famous Monza rostrum to celebrate such a remarkable occasion. 

“You never know how many times you are going to be able to enjoy these kinds of times,” Gasly said after the race.

“I wish we could have had all the Tifosi and all the grandstands full of people, because it’s probably one of the best races to be on the podium, right up there.

“Obviously 2020 style is a bit different but nevertheless I just wanted to sit down and take a moment for myself to go through the thoughts that were crossing my mind and just enjoy that moment.”

After a lacklustre Belgian Grand Prix, labelled boring by Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, and which even Hamilton admitted he would have fallen asleep to having cruised to an untroubled win, Gasly’s victory was the perfect tonic for F1.

Amid a season that is once again looking to be dominated by Mercedes and Hamilton - who has stormed into a resounding championship lead after winning five of the opening eight races - it was a welcome relief for fans to see a new winner crowned in Italy.

It was, after all, just the second defeat inflicted on Mercedes this season. Even the reigning six-times world championship-winning outfit’s chief Toto Wolff acknowledged it was a much-needed result for the sport.

“This is a loss for Mercedes and a loss for the other big teams, but this is a victory for the sport,” Wolff explained. 

“There was great entertainment today, with a call that took the leader out, which we can debate.

“But I think it is so refreshing to see the podium and the young guys fighting in front. I looked at the podium and it was great. They all deserved it.

“Their teams made the right calls, they drove very well, the battle for the victory was good and seeing them up there is very good news for the sport. You have to see it from that side and they provided great entertainment.”

Gasly’s completes redemption arc

Gasly’s win came just 13 months after Red Bull demoted the Frenchman back to Toro Rosso following a difficult 12-race stint at the start of 2019 in which he had struggled to match the level of performance demonstrated by his teammate Verstappen.

At his first race back in Toro Rosso colours, Gasly was rocked by the personal tragedy of the death of his childhood best friend Anthoine Hubert during a Formula 2 race at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.

In the spell that has followed, Gasly has enjoyed a stunning transformation of form that he has carried through the end of 2019 – which included achieving his maiden podium in Brazil – and into this season, in which he has been one of the standout drivers so far with a series of sublime performances.

Gasly credited his never-give-up attitude as being key to his journey that led to his first F1 win. And this steely resilience was something Pierre opened up about to this writer in a recent interview conducted prior to an emotional return to Spa-Francorchamps, which marked the first anniversary of the death of Hubert.

"It was a tough moment last year,” he explained. “I grew up with four older brothers. As a child, I had to go through quite difficult moments which built me a pretty strong character, and I always had to fight for everything I wanted. I always in some way managed to turn that negative energy into something positive.

"I knew last year what happened - deep inside me I felt hurt and I didn't feel it was fair to me and I really wanted to make a clear point in that moment that, look, I know I am fast, I know I can deliver, I know I have been fighting for victories for pole, for championships in my early years and that's what I want in F1.

“We worked so hard, day by day, race after race, after everything that happened to me in the last 18 months, I could not have hoped for a better way to get my first win.”

A popular winner

Gasly’s victory was a popular one throughout the F1 paddock, highlighting just how highly thought of he is among his fellow drivers and colleagues.

It is a rare sight to see F1 drivers so keen to praise the achievements of one of their rivals, but that is exactly what happened at Monza.

"So, so, so happy for Pierre," tweeted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, another one of Gasly’s childhood friends. "What a drive. He deserves it so much."

Despite enduring the disappointment of his race-ruining penalty, Hamilton, who has often spent time playing Call of Duty with Gasly in their free time between races, felt the AlphaTauri driver was fully deserving of his win after how Red Bull had treated him.

“Congratulations to Pierre,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s an amazing result, considering he was dropped from the top team, from Red Bull – unfairly I think.

“I’ve obviously seen what he’s been through, from being dropped from the top team and now he’s beaten the top team. I think it’s just fantastic to see him recover and to see him grow.

“I’m generally really happy for him… It’s been good for him to build up, to build confidence and get a fantastic result today, so huge congrats to him.”

Verstappen, who retired from the race with mechanical issues at mid-distance, also piled the praise on his former stablemate.

“I’m of course very happy for Pierre,” he said. “The whole weekend they were very fast, and then of course to win the race here was, I think, very emotional and a great result for them.

“It’s a great group of people and I hope they’re going to enjoy this one tonight because they deserve it. So, great – also very happy for Pierre.”

Compatriot Romain Grosjean ignored his own impressive performance to take P12 for Haas in the post-race interviews to instead laud Gasly’s triumph at becoming France’s first F1 winner since Oliver Panis at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1996 – the same year Gasly was born.

“I’m pleased with my race but I’m very, very pleased for Pierre,” Grosjean added. “He’s been showing all year long his pace, his racecraft and today was the day when the stars were aligned and he took the opportunity

“He’s a great guy, and it’s an incredible day for France – 24 years that we haven’t had a race winner, and there he is, standing on the podium, with La Marseillaise. I’m so happy for him.”

Gasly is a genuinely lovely person, as well as a talented and fierce competitor on the track. 

No matter which way his career goes from here, the 24-year-old will have grand prix winner etched next to his name forevermore and his road to his first F1 win is a tale that will last the ages.

 

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