Pierre Gasly’s move to Alpine could define the rest of his Formula 1 career. His former boss says he might not have had a future at all if Red Bull had refused to release him.
When the dramatic turns in F1’s driver market finally ended with Alpine paying Red Bull to release Gasly from his 2023 AlphaTauri deal so he could join Renault’s factory team instead, Gasly’s gratitude was palpable.
He had no future at Red Bull, no hope of returning to the senior squad that had unceremoniously sacked him in the middle of the 2019 season and had clearly outgrown AlphaTauri. So he spoke ebulliently about how he now has a better chance of fighting at the front of the grid and that he’s taking a step forward in his career.
AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost believes the change has given Gasly more than that. He believes if Red Bull had stood in Gasly’s way, his career could have been jeopardized – to the point where he might not have a place on the starting line-up in the longer term.
“That was why Red Bull decided to release him from the contract,” Tost told The Race in late 2022.
â€œRed Bull decided not to take him. And Pierre wanted to go to another team. Because of all these changes, with (Sebastian) Vettel retiring and (Fernando) Alonso moving to Aston Martin, the seat at Alpine was vacant.
â€œRed Bull did something very fair to let him go to Alpine. That was clear to me, because otherwise the risk that he would not have a seat for 2024 would have been far too great. Then all cockpits are full.
â€œIt is not easy (to accept Gasly’s exit). But in the end I think it’s a fair decision.â€
Tost’s logic is that Gasly had to leave the Red Bull stable when his contract expired and there would be no guarantee of a good place for him.
There’s an argument that if Gasly really was Alpine’s primary target, the team would have hired a stopgap for 2023 and then snapped up Gasly for 2024. But that would have been risky, especially if the reigning driver shone and deserved a longer deal. Gasly would have been left out in the cold.
And if Gasly was determined to leave Red Bull for 2024, where could he go? He would not command a seat on a top team. From the summer of 2022, McLaren and Aston Martin were discontinued for the medium term. So the alternatives would have been Sauber, Haas or Williams – each with their own priorities in mind.
Many good riders have seen their careers come to a sudden halt because other circumstances have pushed them to the sidelines. In no particular order, that fate has befallen Esteban Ocon, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen over the past decade. A good reputation isn’t always enough for a free agent to weather the wildest swings in the F1 driver market.
Even if Tost slightly exaggerates the long-term danger Gasly faced, he certainly wouldn’t have had as good an option – let alone a better one – than Alpine for 2024. So it’s right to let Gasly go, as a move that was in his best interest. Even if Red Bull has harmed itself.
â€œWe are losing a very experienced driver who has brought the team a lot of success and helped to build the team,â€ says Tost. ‘It will be a loss. There is no doubt about it.â€
A key factor that has led Red Bull to accept this is that Alpine’s desperation to lock up Gasly is said to have resulted in an extremely generous financial payment to Red Bull.
But we can also believe that if Tost/AlphaTauri really fought for it, the likes of Helmut Marko and Christian Horner might just have stuck with Gasly for the extra year.
Red Bull bosses never seemed to be Gasly’s biggest fans – Gasly even said last year that “it was harder for some than others” to let him go – but Tost believed deeply in the Frenchman. They had a strong relationship. â€œI was close to seeing tears in Franzâ€™s eyes when he got the message,â€ Gasly joked.
While it was to be expected that such a connection would make Tost desperate not to lose his leading rider, it was also a motivation to put Gasly’s interests ahead of his own.
â€œWe have a good relationship,â€ says Tost. “And of course I was disappointed because I thought he will be with us until the end of 2023.
â€œBut all the circumstances came together and then I realized there was no point (keeping him).
“Otherwise the risk is too high that he no longer has good chances in F1.”