17 October 2017 – It has been an eventful period for GPUpdate.net columnist Pierre Gasly, having made his Formula 1 debut with Toro Rosso, competing at the Malaysian and Japanese Grands Prix. In his latest piece, Pierre reflects on a whirlwind couple of weekends in the STR12, and looks ahead to the Super Formula title finale.
I'm writing to you from Japan, where I'm getting ready for the Super Formula finale, after relaxing at home in France last weekend!
Obviously since my last column I made my Formula 1 debut with Toro Rosso in Malaysia, and it's been a busy period!
It was really amazing for me to get the call to race. Basically I flew from Japan to Malaysia, so I was supposed to go there as a reserve driver, and when I got to Malaysia on Monday night I received a text saying that I might be racing with Toro Rosso during the weekend. I got really excited about it, I tried to sleep on Monday night, even though I was really excited. On Tuesday morning when I woke up I had the confirmation it was going to happen, of course for me it was really good news. I was really happy to finally get the reward of all the hard work, all of the results that I had before Formula 1, so I was really happy that in the end all the hard work paid off. Of course it was a nice feeling and I was really excited to get it started.
For me, Malaysia was such a crazy weekend, in all aspects, there were so many things I had to go through before the race weekend with the team to basically learn all the procedures. Of course, I had testing with Red Bull, but Toro Rosso is a different team with different people, different engineers, a different car and steering, so I had to go through all these learning processes and procedures. It was quite busy, my first weekend in Formula 1, it was crazy with all the media. Honestly, I think since the first day I arrived in the paddock until Sunday night after the race I didn't have five minutes to rest! It was just really crazy times!
I think it was a positive weekend overall, because it's never easy to arrive at a team, not even in the middle of the season, but towards the end of the year, without any testing before, and to just to go for the first race like this. I tried to do my best, be really focused on the job, try to learn as well, as much as I could next to Carlos [Sainz Jr.]. In the end in qualifying I was one and a half tenths behind him, I felt I was pretty happy, I did the best I could at the time with my experience but I could feel that for me there was room for improvement and a there were a few things that were not ideal, and that we could improve for the future, but to be one and a half tenths from Carlos was positive.
The first race was also a good experience, and quite positive overall. Of course as driver I would have liked to have fought for a better position, but it was quite difficult in Malaysia for the team overall, and we did the best we could.
Then we headed to Japan, for the race at Suzuka, where I'd competed in Super Formula earlier in the year.
I think overall Suzuka was kind of more difficult for us in terms of performance, I didn't feel as comfortable in the car compared to Malaysia, so it was a bit weird. We found out some things in the race, but it was too late for the weekend. I think it felt like we didn't really get the best out of all the sessions, like in qualifying, for example, with Romain [Grosjean]'s crash. But of course I pushed too much in the first run and had quite a big moment in the first sector which cost me five or six tenths, which cost me Q2 in the end, because there was a red flag on my second run and could not make it, but already after Turn 3 on my second run I was already five-tenths quicker compared to my best lap. It was a bit of a shame, as I think Q2 was possible, so I was a bit disappointed after qualifying.
Then in the race it was again positive, I managed to keep up with both Haas', which I think were quicker overall during the weekend, so I think it was really good. After that, with 20 laps to go I was catching [Felipe] Massa for 10th, so I think we were looking good for points, then I had big lock-up because I was struggling with the locking almost all race, locking a bit more, a bit more, a bit more, a bit more every lap... then I had a big lock up into Turn 11. We did the second pit-stop, and after that we could have fought with Massa for 10th place, but we had the VSC at the end that stopped all our hopes for points. We finished 13th; we could have been better, we didn't really make the best out of the race, but I think overall there were some positive things as well to take with us after the weekend, some promising stuff for the next races. In terms of experience it's been huge and really positive, I always feel more comfortable and more confident lap after lap, so it's going in the right direction.
In terms of my first Formula 1 experience, as an official driver, it's probably even crazier than what I thought. You're just so busy during the weekend that it's even more than what I expected, you don't have five minutes to yourself just to rest, you're going from one place to another one, from one meeting to another, engineers, media, then you need to eat, basically it's really intense – they're intense weekends. In terms of driving it's been fantastic because these cars, especially the new ones, are amazing to drive, they're super quick, especially around Suzuka in the first sector – it was just amazing, a lot of pleasure, basically it was just a pure joy, all weekend. I was just so happy from Thursday until Sunday, I was even more in love with Formula 1 after these two weekends!
I was also racing guys I'd watched on TV as a 10-year-old. It was quite insane, but it was really cool as well. It was a dream when I was a kid, since I started karting, to be in Formula 1 as well, to make it. I was watching all the races with Fernando Alonso, with Lewis Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen as well, all these guys. In Malaysia to be with them was in a way a bit funny, but then after when you're racing, as a racing driver, as soon as the lights switch off you're just thinking about the performance and what you need to do in the car to make your result better, and you don't really think about who you're racing with! But, definitely, to be in the weekend with all the media stuff with them, and all these things, is quite special. I've been enjoying it, it has been really good and they've been amazing experiences, it's just as I said... it made me love Formula 1 even more!
Of course I'm excited about Super Formula this weekend; it's always exciting to fight for the championship at the last race, so it's a bit similar to last year in GP2! I think at the moment, definitely looking at the last few races, we're in good shape. I feel good in the car, we've made progress with the car, we should hopefully be fast at Suzuka, and we'll try everything to get it. It's not going to be easy as Hiroaki Ishiura was fast at the first race in Suzuka and also Toyota is usually slightly better than us at Suzuka, but if we manage to do everything right and just work on ourselves, and have a smooth weekend, we will have our chance.
Finally, I have to thank all the people that supported me since I started racing. In a career to make it to Formula 1 you need to deal with many different teams, in karting, in single-seaters, I've worked with many different people, all these people each year helped me to reach my goal and to make my dream happen. I'm really thankful to all these people, and also all the people who supported me through social media. In a career you have really good times and also some others that are a bit more difficult. For me, there's been some really good support to help me reach my goal and to make it to Formula 1, so I have to say a big, big thanks to all these people who supported me to get there, and now there is a bigger challenge ahead of me and I'm really excited about it!
Until next time!