In Pierre Gasly, a 22-year-old Formula One star emerges

Pierre Gasly drove a faultless race with his Scuderia Toro Rosso to finish fourth in the Formula One Bahrain GP on Sunday

other sports Updated: Apr 09, 2018 21:45 IST
Formula One,Bahrain GP,Pierre Gasly
Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly finished fourth in the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.(REUTERS)

A Ferrari won the Bahrain Grand Prix with a Mercedes in pursuit, but the most impressive drive came from behind the usual suspects. Pierre Gasly, 22, was driving his seventh Formula One race, and he took his Scuderia Toro Rosso to a strong, unchallenged fourth place.

It is always, always special to see sensation wrung from an unworthy vehicle. Gasly’s faultless race — contrasted with his partner, Brendon Hartley, who finished dead last — reminded me of another young driver doing remarkable things in a Toro Rosso. At the Chinese Grand Prix in 2007, a young German shockingly took his Toro Rosso to fourth place after starting twelfth. Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz called that boy, Sebastian Vettel, “one of the young guys with extraordinary potential,” while on Sunday, new Red Bull boss Helmut Marko hailed Gasly, saying the drive “made a man out of him.”

It is preposterous to already compare Gasly with the four-time champion, but he’d make a superb role model. Consider this: on Lap 46 of a 57 lap race, Gasly and Lewis Hamilton put in the exact same lap-time, a 1:34.940. In a world of Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault engines, the Frenchman stunned us with a Honda engine. Incredible!

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Vettel, meanwhile, deserves more than the non-alcoholic champagne substitute sprayed on the Bahrain podium. The German fended off a much faster Mercedes piloted by Valteri Bottas, and it took canny race-craft to go quickest when it counted most. With two wins under his belt from two races, Vettel is in such fine spirits that he rose — unbidden — to third-place finisher Hamilton’s defence when the British driver was asked about a profane remark. Let us chalk this to both magnanimity and mind-games.

Bottas ought to have won. He needed to keep pace consistent to Vettel — which he didn’t, despite much fresher tyres — but more unforgivable was the erratic drive after his pitstop. Vettel’s out-lap was a 1:54.7 and Kimi’s was identical, while Bottas only managed a 1:56.5. Since he finished .6 behind Vettel, the race was squandered well before the flag.

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Kimi Raikkonen was set to blitz. Vettel was in front nursing his tyres, the Mercs were looking solid but unthreatening on Medium tyres. Raikkonen pitted ten laps after the others, switching to brand new Super-Softs which would cream the cars in front. Tragically, the green signal to leave the pits was given to the driver when only three tyres had been changed, and he broke a mechanic’s leg as he drove off.

As the mechanic collapsed, Ferrari rallied around. Walking back from his abandoned car, Raikkonen looked like an invisible scarlet spaceman, with nobody in red paying him attention. The team dedicated Vettel’s win to the mechanic, Francesco Cigarini, showing how each member matters. More than engines and aerodynamics, this is what makes Ferrari — to use Seb’s phrase after he won pole position — a “grande machina.”

(Raja Sen is a film critic who has been writing about Formula One since 2004. He shares his birthday with Michael Schumacher. Views expressed are personal.)

First Published: Apr 09, 2018 19:51 IST