No, Lewis Hamilton is not the bad guy for winning all the time. He’s not the bad guy at all. But you only have to read his quotes about Pierre Gasly to understand just what I mean when I say that a good guy won at Monza.
“That’s a fantastic result for him,” Hamilton said. “I’ve obviously seen what he’s been through, from being dropped from the top team, and now he’s beaten the top team. I think it’s just fantastic to see him recover and see him grow, so I am genuinely really happy for him.”
The fact that Hamilton was speaking immediately after getting out of his car – having seen what appeared to be a certain victory slip away from him due to a pit lane error – says that little bit more. The two of them have become friendly through gaming exploits on Call of Duty, but Hamilton was far from alone in delivering such praise.
“I think the most important thing is Pierre, a fantastic win for France and for him after a tough year last year,” Romain Grosjean said. “[It’s] 24 years that we haven’t had a French winner – since Olivier Panis in Monaco (in 1996) – so this is beautiful! So I’m just happy for that. Yes, it was a tough race, I drove my heart out as always, but what matters is Pierre.”
You could argue that it’s easier for the guy who is dominating the championship, or for someone who is in a car that isn’t really capable of points, to speak in support of Gasly. But even those he directly beat shared similar sentiments.
“It was such a crazy race,” Lance Stroll said after finishing third. “I’m so happy for Pierre. He really deserved it. He had a great start and he just stayed consistent all the way throughout the race. It’s a bit of a bummer as I think it was mine to lose, starting from second.”
But Stroll seemed to put his own missed opportunity into context, given the fact that it has been a heck of 12 months in Pierre Gasly’s world. In August last year he was told he was being demoted from Red Bull back to Toro Rosso, partly through his own disappointing performances alongside Max Verstappen, but also due to Alex Albon showing exciting glimpses of potential in his rookie year.
Then came the first race back at the junior team at Spa-Francorchamps, when Gasly had to deal with the loss of his close friend Anthoine Hubert in a Formula 2 crash. Even after a podium in Brazil last year and numerous strong showings this season, it didn’t feel like he’d had a break yet. Red Bull continued to defend Albon to the hilt despite Verstappen again (to use Jenson Button’s term) “annihilating” his teammate, and then Gasly had his house in Normandy burgled while away during the second set of races.
He’d shown impressive mental resolve on an emotional weekend at Spa a week ago, laying flowers at the spot where Hubert crashed and running a tribute helmet before delivering a very strong recovery drive to finish eighth. But nobody – nobody – saw what was to come on Sunday in Italy.
And what was so good about this win is that it came in the sort of enthralling race that F1 produces every now and then, and really needs.
It’s what makes sport great; the anything-can-happen moment that forces you to pay attention if you’re a sports fan. Because you never know when the seemingly unthinkable will come to fruition, and you don’t want to miss it when it does.
Every week, when so many are complaining about Hamilton’s dominance being boring, it’s why they’re still watching: that hope that something crazy is going to happen. It doesn’t matter how rare it is, as long as it does every now and then, it just keeps us all interested.
And it’s a win that can’t be overshadowed. Ferrari had a dismal weekend, and opted to shun its media commitments in the hope that everyone would forget. They won’t, but they were never going to be the story even after such a disaster at their home race. Either the team cleverly knew that and took the chance to avoid some tough questions, or was over-inflating its own importance on a day F1 celebrated its newest winner.
Perhaps Red Bull team principal Christian Horner’s decision to also cancel his media briefing was more understandable, because Gasly is starting to make himself ever-more difficult to ignore. Yes, there was a major slice of luck to the win, but he now has a victory and a second place in his last 10 starts for the junior team, while Albon has yet to stand on the podium in 17 races for Red Bull.
Is that a slight on Albon’s talent? No, and Gasly is actually the main argument for that. Gasly himself didn’t pick up a podium in 12 races for Red Bull last year, but that didn’t make him a bad driver. It made him one not suited to the environment, nor the car that he had at his disposal. And it’s looking increasingly likely that the same is true of Albon, even if he can point to two collisions with Hamilton that ruined his best podium opportunities.
I’ll admit, I was trying to highlight how popular Gasly’s win was at the start of this feature, but Albon aside, two other men who perhaps weren’t quite thrilled were deep in conversation in the pit lane after the race. Horner and Helmut Marko have a growing problem on their hands, because they’ve been criticized for not giving drivers enough time in the past – and Albon deserves their patience – but to ignore Gasly despite the consistently impressive drives and enormous mental strength he has shown feels somewhat unfair.
But perhaps they should be praised. It is still a Red Bull-funded team that Gasly is now driving for, providing him with a second chance in F1. And whether Red Bull promotes him again in future or not, Sunday is the sort of result that will live long in the memory and further convince other suitors that not only would he be a popular addition to their driver line-up, he’d be one capable of winning races given a shot.
It was a monumental result for Gasly, and a similarly big one for F1 itself. After a race like that, more people are likely to give both another chance down the road.