Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

Tuscan Grand Prix: Pierre Gasly scored one for the underdog - Ferrari find themselves in that company ahead of 1,000th race

AlphaTauri's French driver scored an emotional and unexpected victory for Italy's minnows last week

Pierre Gasly's victory at Monza was a cathartic ray of sunshine in what is proving to be a relentlessly and drab repetitive season of Mercedes domination.

It was a triumph for the little man. A David versus Goliath moment that makes sport special.

Behind a handful of famous ‘glamour’ names like Ferrari, Mercedes, Hamilton, Verstappen and Raikkonen there are thousands who work tirelessly in the shadows.

Such is modern F1 that they rarely get their day in the sun.

AlphaTauri is such a team. Their immensely professional small organisation lives, almost literally, in the shadow of Ferrari.

They operate on a fraction of their more illustrious rivals' budget and a third of its work force. They are Italy’s other F1 operation – and are virtually unknown beyond Italy’s borders and the motorsport fraternity.

The last time they won an F1 grand prix was in 2008, an equally unexpected achievement.

And fashionably whiskered Frenchman Gasly at the wheel was - at least until Sunday - as unknown as his team.

While the world sees a sprawling glamorous, globe-trotting sport, it is a small tight-knit community, a nucleus of, perhaps, 300, little different in nature to staff spread out across an open-plan office in any large company. Everybody knows everybody else – and their business.

So the entire community has lived Gasly’s life since he got his big F1 break with Red Bull 18 months ago. More so because it has been a torrid rollercoaster.

It lasted just 12 races. Promoted early because of Daniel Riccardo’s sudden departure Gasly was, unusually, demoted in mid-season back to the B team, AlphaTauri.

F1 careers rarely recover once they take a backwards step. Poor Pierre, we thought. Then close childhood friend, Anthoine Hubert, was killed at Spa last August in a support race to the Belgian GP.

Gasly was devastated. And when F1 returned last month Gasly, clearly still affected, laid flowers at the scene.

And three days later he found the strength to climb back in the cockpit and carry on racing, though his career was on the buffers.

I find drivers invariably chose not to face, head-on, the reality of the dangers they face through sheer pragmatism: it won’t make them faster, so why dwell?

David Coulthard once told me he covered the topic by telling his parents not to worry. If it happened it would be in a sizeable accident, there would be no pain, the lights would go out instantly and that would be it. Subject covered.

As if the tragedy wasn’t bad enough for Gasly, 24, his home in Normandy was burgled and ransacked.

Through it all the amiable Frenchman kept fighting and was rewarded with second in a typically tipsy-turvy race in Brazil.

Last Sunday it seems fate had dished out another slap in the face when he was forced to pit early. It proved to be the foundation of his victory.

It was a win for Gasly who had just moved to nearby Milan, a win for engine supplier Honda at their 50th race, a triumph for tiny AlphaTauri over their glamour neighbours, an emotional win for F1 and anyone who loves sport. In many ways a win for Hubert, too.

In the days since, Lewis Hamilton and his team have both accepted blame for the mistakes that cost them victory.

Hamilton missed trackside warning signs and is right to question why they are on the left for a pit lane entry on the right but I have little sympathy.

I have been close enough to drivers such as Ayrton Senna and seen professionalism at its maximum. Hamilton has got better in recent years but still has little to do with anything at the track besides those that bring him victory. And that’s his choice.

He does much for charitable causes that is praiseworthy but his input to his own sport and the organisation that represents the drivers’ welfare, the GPDA, usually goes in the other column.

Those warning signs at Monza have been there for years. As one of the sport’s most influential figures he has had 14 years to change them, if he could just be bothered.

Looking ahead, Sunday’s gorgeous Mugello track will host a landmark 1,000th GP for Ferrari.

Things, surely, cannot be as bad for Maranello as they were at the last race but the twisting circuit and high speed chicanes will offer Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel little refuge from the reality of a ponderous and petulant car.

But it’s a good bet that the 3,000 VIP fans allowed to an F1 race for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began will probably all drive a similar same kind of red road machine and be hoping for another cathartic win by an underdog. These days that could mean Ferrari, too.

Updated: September 10, 2020 11:23 AM

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