You Want to Know the Real Pierre?

                          Dan Istitene/Formula 1 via Getty Images

                          There is what you’ve heard, what you’ve read what you think you know.

                          Then there is truth.

                          Real, undeniable truth.

                          And I promise: In this story, I will tell you the truth.

                          There are a lot of things I’ve wanted to say for a long time. And we will get to them. But for you to know me, to really understand who I am, we have to talk about the day my life changed forever the day my old life ended, and a new one began.

                          August 31, 2019.

                          It was the Saturday of the Belgian Grand Prix. Quali day. Go-fast day. Fun day. Spa was my favorite circuit in the world to drive. It’s a beautiful track, it really is. Perfect, that’s how I would describe it. On race weekends my schedule is packed — each minute is accounted for, so Jenny, my p.r. assistant, makes sure I get to everything on time. That day, right after quali, I had an appearance with some fans, and then I had about five minutes to get back to the Toro Rosso garage for our team debrief.

                          I always try to make time to watch the start of the Formula 2 races on Saturdays. I love when the lights go out. And I always make sure to keep an eye on one of my best friends, Anthoine Hubert.

                          So that day, as Jenny and I were walking back to the garage, I asked her if we could wait a few minutes to watch the first couple of laps of the F2 race. We were standing below a TV, necks craned up at it, watching the cars fly off the line. On the second lap, as soon as the camera cut to a mess of debris, it was clear there had just been a big wreck at the top of Eau Rouge. I knew right away it was bad. I just knew. There were car parts all over, and I knew that on that part of the track, those cars would have been going over 250 kmh. If something goes wrong at that speed, it goes very wrong. It was really difficult to tell who had been involved in the crash, and Jenny and I had to head to the debrief before any word came down.

                          As we were walking, I saw the red flag waving on the circuit to signal the end of the race. I remember thinking that, you know, maybe somebody had just been seriously hurt and would be out for the rest of the year. In my heart, though, I could feel something was deeply wrong my body just knew.

                          So, I asked our team manager to let me know as soon as he heard who’d been involved. As our debrief began, I tried to focus on gear ratios, braking points and strategy, but my mind couldn’t process any of the information. I just wasn’t there. That’s when our manager cut in.

                          “O.K., it looks like it was Hubert and Correa who were involved in the crash. We don’t know anything else right now.”

                          Hubert?

                          No.

                          No. 



                          James Gasperotti/ZUMA Wire via AP Photo


                          He was the boy in the orange helmet. He was the quickest kid in France. When I started karting in 2005, Anthoine Hubert was the guy. He was only eight (not quite a year younger than me), but he already had what every boy in karting wanted: speed. Every time I saw that orange helmet turn up at the track, I knew it was going to be a tough race. He won the national cup that year, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when I was 13, that I really got to know Anthoine.

                          In 2009 the French racing federation started a school program in Le Mans for kids who were missing months of classes because they were karting at a high level. The school required that we live on campus, so it was quite a big commitment for a young boy to leave home to chase a dream in racing. Basically my whole life, all I ever wanted to be was a Formula 1 driver. I’d watched Michael Schumacher dominate in his Ferrari in the early 2000s and I knew that that was what I wanted to do. And I’m an all-in type of guy. You need to know that about me. I either do something 100% or I don’t do it at all.

                          So at 13 years old, I knew I had to leave my home in Rouen if I really wanted to have the life I dreamed of.

                          Only two other boys in all of France felt the same.

                          And one of them was the boy in the orange helmet.

                          Anthoine was a serious kid. He was super smart and spent a lot of time studying, which kept him out of trouble. He was strict with himself, even at a young age, and I learned a lot of self-discipline from him. After we had been at school for a few years, we were spending most of our time together. We’d push each other to be better. 

                          Courtesy of Pierre Gasly

                          I remember, we’d be in the gym and one of us would look at the other and say, “You tired?”

                          “Nah. Are you?”

                          “Nah.”

                          We were both definitely tired. Exhausted. But we just fed off each other’s energy. That’s just the way we were.

                          The school was in this old, dark castle, where in the winter we would run out of hot water all the time. I remember Anthoine and I arguing with the other boys about who got to shower first in the mornings because we all had to share bathrooms. The other students in the school were mostly regular kids, and they would always ask us why we were there and where we went all the time on weekends.

                          Anthoine and I would always say the same thing.

                          “I’m going to be in F1 one day.”

                          Everyone would roll their eyes.

                          Even when we were karting even when we were in a place where EVERYONE loved racing, loved the dream nobody believed in us. There was like this acceptance that French boys just don’t make it. And it seemed like everyone around the sport just had to remind us at every step that we weren’t going to get there.

                          “There’s 20 seats in F1, why are you two boys going to make it?”

                          “You don’t have the talent.”

                          “The odds are impossible.”

                          Man, looking back you’d think people almost wanted us to fail.

                          Their doubt and our belief bonded us. We both knew what sort of sacrifices we had made, that our families had made, to get us to where we were.

                          If I’m being completely honest, I think, deep down, Anthoine and I both thought we weren’t going to make it. The odds truly were not in our favor. We had talent, we had passion — but we didn’t have crazy financial backing or any of the other resources you often need to give yourself a chance at a seat. But our dream made us friends. And our friendship gave us the chance to better ourselves.

                          I used to think, O.K., maybe neither of us will make it. But at least we get to push every day, at least we get to try.

                          So I got to grow every day with the quickest kid in France.

                          And over time he went from being the serious kid in the orange helmet, to being my friend to being my brother.



                          Sitting in that debrief at Spa, all I could think about was my friend. 

                          I started to shake. I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. My breathing became erratic, and my hands got so sweaty that I had a hard time pulling out my phone to try and check social media for news.

                          As soon as our debrief ended, I ran down to the hospitality area to see my parents and girlfriend because I knew they’d have more information. I remember coming down the stairs and seeing them all just sobbing. I could see they were broken. And I understood what it meant. I knew my friend was gone.

                          I wasn’t prepared for that. Honestly, I had let my mind wander to think that maybe Anthoine was in a coma or something like that. But death? Death? I never thought that was possible. You know, when Jules Bianchi was killed in a crash in 2015 ... it was the first time in a long time that someone from our generation of racers, at any level, had died. It happened a lot 40 or 50 years ago, but now? No. No.

                          I was completely broken. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I’ve never experienced a worse feeling than that in my life. Never.

                          That night, when I closed my eyes to go to sleep, I thought of my friend.

                          I remember coming down the stairs and seeing them all just sobbing. I could see they were broken.

                          Pierre Gasly

                          He was so calculated. He never took any silly risks. How could that happen to him? Why? He wasn’t supposed to go. He had too much to do. He was on his way. I really believed that he was going to be in F1 one day. People doubted me, and I knew I know — how hard he worked. I’d seen it my whole life. I knew that if I could do it, so could he. He was on his way.

                          A month before the race at Spa, right before F1 took its summer break, we were in Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix. On Sunday, a bunch of us went out for dinner and had a great evening in the city. Anthoine and I spent the night talking. It was just a regular night, you know? Like we think we’re going to get thousands of those with our friends. And now I would give anything for a few more hours like that with Anthoine.

                          When I left him that night in Budapest, we just told each other to enjoy the summer and that we’d catch up at Spa after the race on Sunday.

                          Of course, I didn’t know that we’d never have another dinner together. But I also didn’t know that I was going to need him again in just a few days.

                          Courtesy of Pierre Gasly

                          I started the 2019 season with Red Bull. I’d gotten to F1 with Toro Rosso in 2017, but Red Bull was my first chance to drive for a top team and prove to everyone what I could do in one of the best cars in the world. And in a way I felt that, if I could do that, I would be sending a message to the people who had doubted me and Anthoine back in the day. His success meant a lot to me, and I know that mine meant a lot to him, too.

                          So after a really good year with Toro Rosso in 2018, I got the call from Helmut Marko to let me know they wanted me at Red Bull. They had won so many championships, and Sebastian Vettel had been such an inspiration to me as a kid — I knew I wanted to drive like him one day. So I was realizing a dream, and I was just so excited.  I wish I could tell you it was exactly what I thought it would be what I wanted it to be. But it wasn’t. It just wasn’t.

                          From the moment I made my first mistake in a car, I felt like people there slowly began to turn on me. I’d had a crash in winter testing, and from that moment on the season never really got going. Then I had a tough first two races with Red Bull and the media just ate me up. Anything I said in the press was twisted into an excuse for my form, and nobody really stuck up for me. The car wasn’t perfect, and I was doing my best to try to improve and learn each week, but like ... here’s what I’ll say about it: It was a difficult time for me at Red Bull because I didn’t feel like I was really supported and treated the same way as others there have been. And for me … that’s something that I just can’t accept. I was working my ass off every day, trying to get results for the team, but I was not being given all the tools I needed to succeed. I would try to offer solutions, but my voice wasn’t heard, or it would take weeks to see changes.

                          For whatever reason, I was never going to be a fit in that seat it was just never going to work.

                          I’m not the type of person to start stuff in the media, because I am truly grateful to Red Bull for the chance, as well as for everything they’ve done for me in my career. I really am. But I’m allowed to tell my truth.

                          So, that’s it. That’s the truth.

                          After Budapest, after I said goodbye to Anthoine, I went on holiday. But before I left I called our team principal, Christian Horner, just to ask him what I could be doing more of on race weekends to improve, and to see if he could take a closer look at my side of the garage to see what could be done. Christian said he would do all he could. And that was that. 

                          I wanted to improve. I wanted it to work.

                          But Helmut Marko called me while I was on holiday in Spain and said, “We’re going to send you back to Toro Rosso in a switch for Alex Albon. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story with us. But with all the noise in the media we just feel it’s best.”

                          That’s just how it goes. That’s F1.

                          Peter Fox/Getty Images

                          I was sad. I can’t lie. I was broken up about it. I want to be a world champion. Who knows when I’ll be back in a car that good again? It’s really, really hard to take a step backward in this sport. 

                          When the news broke a few days later, I got a text from Anthoine.

                          “Prove them wrong. Be strong, bro. You’re going to show them you deserve your seat in a top team and prove them wrong.”

                          And my sadness turned to drive it turned to passion.

                          I knew there were nine races left on the calendar.

                          Nine times to show them that they had made a mistake.

                          Nine times to prove them wrong.



                          At Spa in 2019 with Toro Rosso, I felt like for the first time in my life I was really starting a new chapter. I had always thought I’d keep on my upward trajectory and eventually become world champion. But being put back in the middle of the pack at Toro Rosso — I felt like I was evolving out of the old Pierre. I had to find a new, more mature version of myself if I wanted to prove something to everyone in the sport.

                          But then Saturday happened, and my world got flipped upside down. I lost my friend, my brother. I lost one of the only people like maybe there are two or three others who truly understands what it’s like to live this life. Anthoine and I had been through so much together. We had shared this path, this journey. And when he left us, a part of me left, too.

                          The next day, it was just a horrible atmosphere around the circuit. Anthoine had touched a lot of people’s lives, and there was just a dark cloud hanging over everyone. Everything felt off. We had a moment of silence before the race and some of Anthoine’s family were there. You know, that sort of put things into perspective for me. Like, This race today? It’s not everything. It’s just a part of our lives, but it is not everything.

                          But I also knew Anthoine was watching, and I knew he would have told me to focus and give it my all.

                          Anthoine and I had been through so much together. We had shared this path, this journey. And when he left us, a part of me left, too.

                          Pierre Gasly

                          So when I got in the car, I let myself think of him one more time. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and flipped my visor down. Once that happens, that’s my trigger — I go into my zone.

                          For the next year, I did everything like I had my visor down.

                          I pushed like I was back in that dark, damp castle.

                          I chased a dream.

                          And a year later, in 2020, I came back to Belgium for the Grand Prix.

                          Like I said, Spa used to be one of my favorite places in the world. I would always come to the race so happy, so excited to get on the track. But that week … I could only think of Anthoine. Nothing else. It was incredibly sad. 

                          Before the weekend, I went up Eau Rouge, to the site of his accident. It’s one of the most beautiful places in motor sports. You look back down the hill, and you can see the paddock and the first turn, the grandstands and the different fan areas. And if you turn around, you see the Kemmel straight that takes you into the Ardennes. It’s really special. So, I walked up there with some flowers. I laid them down and said a prayer for my friend, and then I left.

                          Dan Istitene/Formula 1 via Getty Images

                          I wish I could say it brought me peace. But there is no peace when something like that happens.

                          But I felt him there that day. And I also felt like — for the first time since it had happened — I could pop my visor up and see again. Like really see again. I found a piece of myself that day. And I took it with me to Monza, the following race.

                          I had just moved to Milan a few months earlier, and the Italian Grand Prix was the first time in my career that I had slept at home the night before a race. Sunday morning, before I drove to the circuit, I was sitting in the kitchen having a coffee. I was thinking about Anthoine, thinking about who I had become. And I was like, F***, man, my life is pretty good.

                          In that moment, I just felt grateful, you know? Like, I had done it — we had done it. I was a Formula 1 driver. I was a damn Formula 1 driver. And in five hours I would get to race in the Italian Grand Prix.

                          I started the race in 10th place. It was an odd day, lots of cars were having issues. Our AlphaTauri Honda car felt really good, and we just kept going while people struggled around us —we just kept pushing. And then, on lap 29, I took the lead when Lewis pitted for a stop-and-go penalty. And for the first time in three years, I wasn’t behind someone. I was leading a race. I had spent my whole F1 career battling people — keeping up with the guy in front of me and constantly chasing. But now it was just me. Me and the car and the track. I drove every lap like it was my last. I mean that. 

                          That day at Monza, somebody was watching over me.

                          In that moment, I just felt grateful, you know? Like, I had done it — we had done it.

                          Pierre Gasly

                          I kept thinking, Today is my day. Today is MY day. There is no way I’m going to let this moment pass. There is no way.

                          And it was my day.

                          It was our day.

                          It takes so many things to win a race in F1. And when I crossed the finish line I just thought of my team, my family — I was so thankful for all of their hard work, their sacrifices. I knew that I was the one who had physically crossed the line, but they had all been there right beside me. That cooldown lap ... I wish I could experience that a million times. The best feeling. The best.

                          There was no crowd, of course — none of the famous Italian tifosi swarming the track — because of the pandemic, but the podium presentation was still incredible.

                          To stand on the top step — I mean that’s what it’s all about right?

                          When I heard the French anthem, I just tried to soak it all in. I told myself that you only get the first win once. 

                          Matteo Bazzi/Pool/AFP

                          And when it ended, I couldn’t leave. I felt like I was tied to the podium. In a way, with no fans there, it felt sort of right. At times the journey to that point had been lonely. Standing up there, on my own, I thought of all the mechanics, the engineers, all the men and women at AlphaTauri who work behind the scenes to make a moment like that possible.

                          And then I thought of the boy in the orange helmet.

                          I felt him there. I knew he was watching.

                          His dreams were my dreams. My dreams were his dreams. And that moment was our moment.

                          Anthoine taught me so many things. There isn’t a race day that passes that I don’t think of him. I wish more than anything that he were lining up on the grid this year. But his passing forced me to see life in a different way. On the podium in Italy, I didn’t take anything for granted. I celebrated that moment like it was the only one I’ll ever get — because that’s how we should all live our lives.

                          The grind is the grind and it is beautiful — no doubt. But, man, pop your visor up from time to time and look around. Enjoy what you have. Cherish the people and the love in your life.

                          I’m so lucky to be here, to be doing what I’m doing.

                          And I’m so lucky to have known Anthoine Hubert.

                          I will carry his dreams, his ambitions, with me everywhere I go.

                          I love you, buddy.

                          —Pierre