Frenchman Pierre Gasly said he had no time for sentiment on his first full-time day in the cockpit despite admitting it was an emotional moment in his career progression.
Gasly got a last-minute call-up on Monday before the Malaysian Grand Prix, replacing the out-of-favour Daniil Kvyat alongside Carlos Sainz for an undisclosed number of races — he is concurrently competing in Japan’s Super Formula, one round of which will clash with the United States Grand Prix.
But the conflicting schedules didn’t distract the 21-year-old on his first full day out with the team. He had little trouble adjusting to the tricky wet conditions during first free practice, effortlessly besting Sainz stand-in Sean Gelael by 2.2 seconds, and in second free practice he was one-tenth faster than Carlos Sainz, though the Spaniard was battling powertrain issues.
“Definitely, many emotions this morning in my first free practice in Formula One as an official Formula One driver,” he said. “Really emotional going out this morning — but, yeah, I had to be focused on the work straight away.”
Despite substituting for Kvyat at a crucial moment in Toro Rosso’s fight for fifth in the constructors standings — the team sits sixth, seven points behind Williams — the Frenchman says he isn’t being pressured by the team to be up to speed immediately.
“The team told me it’s basically to do my best, try to learn everything as quickly as possible next to Carlos who is really strong at the moment,” Gasly said. “But they didn’t set any like positions before the weekend.
“I think for me the main thing is to have a clean weekend with no mistakes, trying to feel more and more comfortable in the car lap after lap.”
In Carlos Sainz, who Gasly will almost certainly replace in 2018 when the Spaniard makes his move to Renault, the newcomer has an ideal reference, with his teammate racing in career-best form.
Considering a recalled Kvyat is likely to be sitting alongside him next season, this brief opportunity to learn from the more highly rated Sainz will be invaluable for Gasly.
“For me it’s really useful,” Gasly admitted. “He’s really on top of his game at the moment, also he has more experience with the car than me — so in terms of balance, for example, we could be confident that today was not an ideal day for us, and that we had some work to do to improve the car for tomorrow.
“Definitely for me it’s good to have him next to me with the experience he has with the team.”
Sainz input will be useful for the weekend overall, as conditions couldn’t have been more difficult for Gasly’s competitive debut. The first 30 minutes of FP1 were cancelled while rain lashed the circuit, and the track remained treacherous for much of the remainder, drying only enough for intermediates before it ended.
The circuit was more predictable in the second session, but it too was truncated when Romain Grosjean crashed his car with 20 minutes remaining, depriving Gasly the opportunity to complete a long-run programme.
“It wasn’t the easiest conditions to start your first practice in Formula 1, but I really like wet conditions,” he said. “I felt quite confident in the car as well — actually more confident than in the dry — so it was positive, especially in Malaysia.
“We have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow in qualifying and in the race, so always good to feel good in wet conditions.”
However the weekend progresses, however, it won’t be one Gasly will forget in a hurry.
“For me this weekend I think will stay in my mind forever. Your first Formula One weekend is always such a special moment.
“Everything is real and my dream, the thing I’ve dreamt about so many times is happening. Definitely for me this weekend is going to be memorable.”