Pierre Gasly claims he had to deliver “qualifying laps” in the closing stages of the Dutch Grand Prix to ensure he remained within five seconds of Sergio Perez to seize a podium finish.
Having managed to only qualify 12th, Gasly shot up the order in the opening exchanges by making the inspired call to pit at the end of Lap 1 for Intermediate tyres as the track conditions worsened with the arrival of rain.
Although he received a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane, Gasly regained the place he had lost to Carlos Sainz to move back into fourth.
A late race deluge and a crash for Guanyu Zhou prompted a lengthy red flag stoppage, with Gasly taking advantage of the race being neutralised again and a five-second penalty for Perez to clinch third place.
Reflecting on his race, Gasly said: “I mean, we knew we were starting outside the points and there was this rain coming. Took a good start and out of that last corner, I saw the rain, I could see the intensity, and I saw the opportunity and the reward.
“So I called it straightaway. I wanted to box, also to benefit from a slightly drier track to warm up the tyres on that first lap. And it really worked out well.
“So it put us in a strong position, fourth place straightaway. Then there were 71 laps to go. So still a pretty long day at the office. But it felt great. We managed to pull away from the Ferrari, we had a five-second penalty, which wasn’t great and put us back behind Carlos, which we had to overtake after that.
“But all in all, there’s some very good pace and good calls from the team and good strategy. So I’m happy to start this second part of the season in that way.”
Gasly admits he entered qualifying mode in the remaining laps after the red flag as he sought to remain within the five-second window he needed to beat Perez.
“It’s never easy to stay within five seconds of a Red Bull, that’s for sure,” he acknowledged. “But you know, I mean, I saw the opportunity, I knew what was on the table and yeah, just gave everything I had out there.
“And actually, I expected to struggle a bit more with a warm-up initially, but the conditions were not too bad. So, it was yeah, pretty much a couple of qualifying laps at the end, which were really rewarding and I can feel what he was feeling: I went through it a couple laps before with these five seconds penalties. So yeah, I just tried to get everything I could.”
Gasly conceded before the summer break that his debut campaign with Alpine has been his “unluckiest” year in Formula 1.
The Enstone side has encountered a tumultuous year, slumping to sixth in the Constructors’ Championship and undergoing an overhaul within its management ranks.
But Gasly says he is “really proud” of the team for persisting through the struggles and maximising everything throughout a troublesome Sunday at Zandvoort.
“Well, it’s obviously very satisfying when you get a reward for the work that we’re all putting in in the team,” he noted.
“I think this year we came close in Monaco, running in third position and it was clearly a missed opportunity, with the sort of, extra stop, which wasn’t necessary.
“But no, it’s a sort of season where you’ve just got to keep trying, just keep trying again and again and there’s going to be a point where things are going to click and today it did, and it was probably the most challenging race of the year.
“There were a lot of obstacles. There were many moments where we could have got it wrong. But as a team, we just tried to maximise that and that’s why I’m really pleased and I’m really proud of the team, because we haven’t been really fortunate but you’ve got to keep trying and keep looking at yourself and seeing the areas where you can improve. And that’s what we’ve been doing.”
While Gasly rounded out the first half of the year by finishing third in the Belgian Grand Prix Sprint Race, the Frenchman asserts he enjoyed being able to attend the podium rostrum for the first time since June 2021.
“The top three in Spa didn’t feel the same. Obviously, it was a third place, but it’s a Sprint and I didn’t get to go on the podium,” he argued.
“But clearly, this one feels a lot better. And I hope we can build up from there with the guys.”
However, Gasly insists that Alpine must improve its competitiveness in dry conditions to achieve more headline results.
“Last weekend in Spa we had a good top-three finish in the Sprint in Intermediate conditions, like in the wet. Again today, we managed to make the best out of these conditions,” he added.
“There is a clear trend that the car seems to work a bit better in the wet. Now we’ve got to improve and keep working because we’re still slightly further back in the dry. But there were definitely some good signs of pace today and we need to go from there.”