Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda went into the 2021 Formula 1 season with an eye on breaking into the top five in the Constructors’ Championship, and for much of the season they were on course to do just that.
Pierre Gasly was once again sublime as he carried to the team for much of the year as his rookie team-mate Yuki Tsunoda adapted to life in Formula 1 after being promoted by Red Bull following an impressive year in FIA Formula 2 in 2020.
He significantly outscored his team-mate and brought the team a well-deserved podium in Azerbaijan, but it was not enough for AlphaTauri to place fifth, thanks mainly to Esteban Ocon’s win in the Hungarian Grand Prix and Fernando Alonso’s podium in Qatar that gave the Alpine F1 Team the advantage.
In the final year of Honda being officially their engine suppliers – Red Bull Powertrains will take over in 2022 – AlphaTauri gave it all they could, with Gasly in particular a shining star. He was superb in Qualifying – making it into Q3 eighteen times – and he scored points on fifteen occasions.
Gasly’s podium finish in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a just reward for the way the Frenchman was driving in 2021, and he did so despite pressure from Charles Leclerc in a Scuderia Ferrari that ought to have had the advantage around the Baku City Circuit.
It was not only Azerbaijan where Gasly shone – in fact he shone most weekends, particularly in Qualifying. He scored fourth place starts in Azerbaijan, The Netherlands, Qatar and São Paulo, although in Qatar he started on the front row for the first time in his career thanks to penalties for Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen.
For a team, the season closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a major high, with both drivers finishing inside the top five. It was by far Tsunoda’s best weekend of his rookie season as he had the measure of Gasly, and his last lap move on Bottas for fourth was sublime. It also delayed the Finn enough to allow Gasly to pounce for fifth to ensure the team ended 2021 on a high.
The first time that neither Gasly nor Tsunoda scored points was the Italian Grand Prix, and it was a weekend to forget for the team that won at the same venue back in 2020.
Gasly crashed out after losing his front wing during the Sprint Qualifying race on Saturday and was an early retirement on Sunday with his repaired car being undriveable, while a technical issue forced Tsunoda out before the lights went out.
Only twice more did AlphaTauri fail to score, with Gasly and Tsunoda missing out on the top ten in both Russia and Qatar. Gasly, in particularly, was disappointed to fall away out of the points after starting on the front row at the Losail International Circuit, but it was one of very few low points for the Frenchman who only failed to finish on four occasions.
There were a few low points for Tsunoda on a personal level, with crashes in Qualifying for the Emilia Romagna and French Grand Prix leaving him at the back of the field, with the Japanese racer often trying to hard too early and losing momentum and causing damage.
It was a very one-sided affair at AlphaTauri when it came to Qualifying – Gasly had the advantage in every session bar one, which was the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi.
Only on four occasions did Gasly fail to break into the top ten, with his best Qualifying effort being fourth, although penalties to Bottas and Verstappen promoted him to his first front row start in the Qatar Grand Prix.
There is no doubt that Gasly can perform on a Saturday (or a Friday if a Sprint Qualifying weekend). He often puts the car where it ought not to be, and he started the year with a pair of fifth places in Bahrain and Imola. It was somewhat of a surprise not to see him on either the second or third row of the grid.
Tsunoda, on the other hand, was usually left outside the top ten, with the Japanese only making it into Q3 on seven occasions. Only in Abu Dhabi did he get in front of Gasly, however that will give him confidence going into his sophomore season in 2022 knowing he can outqualify the Frenchman.
His best effort was seventh on the grid in the Austrian Grand Prix, but it was a case of overtrying for Tsunoda, at least in the early part of the year, with crashes at Imola and Circuit Paul Ricard relegating him to the back of the grid, while he was also eliminated in Q1 in Spain, Monaco, Great Britain, Hungary and Italy.
Gasly was again the main points scorer for AlphaTauri, as he was against Daniil Kvyat in 2020, and for the first time he broke through the one-hundred-point barrier as he showed impressive performances throughout the year.
He finished ahead of Tsunoda in thirteen of the fifteen times they both saw the chequered flag, with only the races in Great Britain and Abu Dhabi seeing the Japanese racer end ahead.
Gasly took his third podium finish of his career in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a terrific late race battle with Leclerc, but that was not his only impressive result as he took a couple of fourths, a couple of fifths and four sixth place finishes across the year.
Tsunoda had to wait until Abu Dhabi to score his best result of fourth, and whereas Gasly had a number of top six results, he only had two. He only scored thirty-two points across the year, seventy-eight less than his more established team-mate. It was a very one-sided battle.
What to Expect in 2022
For Pierre Gasly, 2022 will need to be a year where he consolidates his form if he is to be first in line for a promotion to a front-running team, although AlphaTauri will be doing everything they can with the new regulations to bring themselves into contention.
There is no doubting Gasly’s talent – he has become one of Formula 1’s genuine stars – and at just twenty-five years of age, he still has a lot of racing ahead of him. It would be no surprise if he is just as fast and consistent in 2022 as he was in 2021.
For Tsunoda, it is definitely a make-or-break year if he wants to have more than two years in the sport – it is not as though Red Bull don’t have a bunch of young drivers waiting in the wings, such as FIA Formula 2 stars Liam Lawson, Jüri Vips, Jehan Daruvala, Dennis Hauger and Jack Doohan.
One positive to take into 2022 was the way Tsunoda drove towards the end of the year in 2021, with his performances showing a step forward, particularly in Qualifying. He will need to follow that up strongly next season if he is to be a long-term Red Bull-backed driver in Formula 1.