For many, it was a call Red Bull had to make at some point. Max Verstappen was crushing Gasly, with the Dutchman carrying the team through the opening half of the season.
For others, it provides a bleak future for Gasly who, in the cutthroat nature of F1, now faces an even greater test to remain in the sport at all.
What changed in just eight days for Red Bull?
Monday’s news carries shock value considering Red Bull boss Christian Horner said — just over a week ago in Hungary — it was the team’s “intention” to leave Gasly in the car until the end of 2019. He also said Gasly needs to “get it together”.
However, one of the great luxuries for Red Bull is that they have two teams — and four contracted drivers — on the grid. A mid-season driver change is always a surprise, but when it comes to Red Bull, the shock is somewhat dimmed. They have freedom to do as they please.
It was Verstappen that was vaulted into the senior team as a teenager in 2016 at the expense of Daniil Kvyat, whose string of early-season high-profile incidents became too glaring an issue. It affected Kvyat greatly, who at the back end of the 2017 season, was replaced in races by Gasly and Brendon Hartley at Toro Rosso.
Gasly and Hartley then formed the Toro Rosso line-up in 2018, before the former was promoted following Daniel Ricciardo’s exit, and the latter was axed. In came Albon and Kvyat, who returned from a one-year hiatus.
Just how badly was Gasly travelling?
Gasly impressed at Toro Rosso in 2018. He finished fourth in Bahrain — just his second race of the season — and scored 29 points overall. Hartley, meanwhile, managed just four points.
Gasly was a driver seemingly worthy of the Red Bull seat, and certainly would have arrived to season 2019 expecting to compete not just with Verstappen, but Mercedes and Ferrari.
However, after 12 races, Gasly is just five points ahead of Carlos Sainz, who has wildly impressed for McLaren.
Is Verstappen really in a class of his own? Perhaps — he has scored 181 points, and has taken two wins and three other podiums, to sit just seven points behind Valtteri Bottas in the dominant Mercedes.
Ricciardo remaining confident
However, the numbers for Gasly this season make for ghastly reading. He has managed a third of Verstappen’s points haul, and a season-best finish of fourth at Silverstone came as Verstappen was wiped out by Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen has scored 81 points from his last four races. Gasly has scored 63 points all season. Go figure.
Kvyat rebuilt himself to win back an F1 seat, and has been strong this season, with his Germany podium a clear highlight. Gasly can use the Russian as inspiration as he returns to Toro Rosso, but he’ll need to quickly acquaint himself with his former surroundings should he keep his F1 dream alive.
Red Bull would have been reluctant to promote Kvyat considering the open wounds from 2016, and Gasly’s form was far too poor to obviously keep him in the drive.
Name a current junior Red Bull driver outside of F1 that could be vaulted in alongside Verstappen. It simply wouldn’t happen, at least overnight, and the senior team can’t rest on its laurels as they pursue Ferrari.
So, there is Albon, a 23-year-old British-born Thai with 12 races under his belt. He has also faced adversity, being dropped from Red Bull’s driver programme in 2012. However, he battled back to express his potential, and won his F1 drive after engaging in a ding-dong Formula 2 championship battle with fellow F1 rookies George Russell and Lando Norris.
Albon’s 2019 has been equally as impressive, with drives in China and Germany — where he fought through from the rear in tough conditions — typifying his fighting spirit. Perhaps minds were made up at Red Bull in Germany once Gasly crashed into Albon in the race, just two days after Gasly binned it in practice.
Is it a risk worth taking?
Red Bull are just 44 points behind Ferrari in the fight for second in the constructors’ championship. Considering the monetary benefits — among others — of constructors’ rankings, every point counts.
Being usurped by a driver from a team outside the ‘Big Three’ also isn’t not an option for Red Bull. However, Sainz’s form is so good, that it was inevitable he would eat Gasly alive. In hindsight, Red Bull would have loved a 2019-version Sainz alongside Verstappen, but that can’t happen either.
However, something had to give — and for Red Bull, it was Gasly. A genuine risk lies with Albon being unable to make the most of his opportunity, as well as Gasly completely falling from grace and losing his Toro Rosso drive at season’s end.
Both drivers will be rusty – for Red Bull, Albon will also need time in the simulator, considering the first time he’ll drive the RB15 will be at the daunting Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
Supercars will return to Sydney Motorsport Park on July 18-19 and this time the drivers will race in front of fans under lights following a coronavirus-forced shake-up to the schedule.
The fourth round of the Supercars Champions will be at Eastern Creek, with the Winton SuperSprint postponed due to COVID-19 travel protocols in Queensland restricting the return of teams from Victoria after competing in the southern state.
It will be the second consecutive round at the western Sydney circuit after last weekend’s successful return to racing. In a boon for the Championship, fans will be welcomed back for the round with limitations on each day’s attendance to be announced in the coming days.
On top of the return of crowds, the Sydney SuperSprint — initially planned for the end of the season — will feature night time racing.
Saturday will see a night race, with two day races to follow on the Sunday.
A return to Winton this year is not off the cards, with the event only postponed at this stage.
Formula One starts its season in Austria this week, nearly four months later than planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic and against a very different backdrop — even if Lewis Hamilton’s targets remain the same.
The six-times world champion can equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s record seven while his Mercedes team are bidding for an unprecedented seventh successive drivers’ and constructors’ title double.
Eight rounds, all in Europe and without spectators for the first time, feature on a provisional calendar but the sport still hopes to muster 15-18 races, even if that means several circuits hosting two each.
Read what you need to know about the season in our ultimate guide!
After 84 wins from 250 starts and six titles, including the last three in succession, the 35-year-old defending champion starts out as favourite again and shows no signs of age or easing off.
He is eight wins from overhauling Schumacher’s record 91 wins entering his 14th year and has an untouched combination of pure speed, race-craft, consistency and tactical guile that, in a near-perfect team, can at times make him untouchable. Vociferous in his support for anti-racism protests during the lockdown, Hamilton will now want to have his say on the track.
Valtteri Bottas (Finland)
Fast, focused and battle-hardened after three years alongside Hamilton, Bottas should be his nearest rival if he can find his best form and remain consistent.
Now 30, he has to add to his seven wins and find the mental strength required after a difficult 2019 in which his marriage broke up and perennial doubts over his future with the team had a negative affect.
Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
The four-time champion, who turns 33 next Friday, announced in May he was quitting the scarlet scuderia at the end of this season. He has struggled to find the magic formula to land Ferrari’s first drivers’ crown since 2007 and faces a daunting challenge to leave with the title following Charles Leclerc’s emergence as a star with sensational natural speed.
Charles Leclerc (Monaco)
Entering his third season in F1 and second with Ferrari, the 22-year-old has already demonstrated prodigious talent by taking seven poles, winning twice and outpacing Vettel in his maiden year at Maranello, including an emotional triumph at Monza.
That positioned him as a real contender who, along with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, can unsettle the old guard and give his own team boss Mattia Binotto a difficult task in managing his fast and sometimes furious (with each other) pairing.
Max Verstappen (Netherlands)
Despite 102 race starts, the erstwhile “Mad Max” is still only 22, but has found a maturity to justify his billing as the man most likely to unseat Hamilton from his throne. Much will depend on the power supplied from the team’s Honda engines this year.
He had nine podiums and three wins last year, enlarging his total to eight, when at times he looked unbeatable, on tracks that suited his car. An improvement on that, allied to a focus on the ultimate prize and just the immediate race, could see him run the champion close in this shortened season.
Alex Albon (Thailand)
The London-born softly-spoken Thai driver, aged 24, was one of last year’s surprise success stories as he turned from Toro Rosso rookie into a threat to Verstappen’s hegemony.
This season should see more improvement as he collects his first podiums and possibly a maiden win to elevate himself among the leading contenders for regular top-six finishes. His gentle demeanour hides a determined and accomplished racer with a big future.
Carlos Sainz (Spain)
After five years in F1 and at the age of 25, Sainz is poised to realise his potential and continue McLaren’s recovery from dismal also-rans to leading mid-grid runners with a chance of snatching podiums.
His third place in Brazil, awarded retrospectively, supplied the team’s first podium in five years and more look certain. He moves to Ferrari next season to replace Vettel, and will want to show his new employers at Maranello the wisdom of their decision.
Lando Norris (Britain)
Only 20, fast and focused, Norris enjoyed a very strong rookie season alongside his Spanish teammate and they formed a very solid partnership. He matched Sainz’s pace and often out-qualified him.
With a full season under his belt, he should improve his weaknesses in starts and race-craft and can take another step towards establishing himself among those drivers at the head of the chasing pack.
Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)
Still ambitious he turns 31 on Wednesday and after eight full seasons, the Australian faces a new in-team challenge this year in the form of the highly-rated Esteban Ocon.
Ricciardo’s 2018 move from Red Bull, where he had outpaced Sebastian Vettel before the arrival of Max Verstappen, has been followed by only flashes of his dashing best form. Restricted by Renault’s underperformance – they have recruited Pat Fry to improve the chassis – Ricciardo has to step up and challenge the top six. He replaces Sainz at McLaren next season.
Esteban Ocon (France)
Back after a year’s sabbatical ‘on the bench’ at Mercedes, Ocon will give Ricciardo a serious test this year. Fast, determined, unafraid of tough battles, he proved himself with Manor and Force India and has completed 50 races.
Aged 23, he is hungry for action and success. He was GP3 champion in 2015 and has risen to the top on merit after his garage mechanic father Laurent made huge sacrifices to ignite his karting career. Clever and controlled, he is tipped for the top.
Daniil Kvyat (Russia)
Fatherhood has combined with a second coming to propel the likeable 26-year-old back into F1 with a key role in a strong midfield team, as Toro Rosso are renamed after a giant red star, the Taurus constellation.
Most of Kvyat’s rollercoaster career has seen him with Red Bull or their sister team struggling for consistency, but he claimed a fine podium in Germany last year to secure a lead role alongside Pierre Gasly, who returned from Red Bull in mid-2019. Together they completed the team’s best-ever 85 points haul for a season.
Pierre Gasly (France)
The 2017 GP2 champion made a spirited response when dropped from Red Bull to the Toro Rosso sibling team and formed a strong pairing with Kvyat, finishing an impressive second in Brazil en route to seventh in the championship.
Now recovered, at 24, from a tough experience alongside Verstappen early last season, he has the speed and craft to maintain his best form and help AlphaTauri live up to their new name and image.
Sergio Perez (Mexico)
Still winless after 176 Grands Prix, the 30-year-old Mexican goes into his seventh year with the Silverstone-based team as one of the most reliable drivers on the grid. Ambitions for the outfit, backed by Canadian Lawrence Stroll who has bought heavily into Aston Martin, have risen and with that expectations of improved results.
Fast, economic with tyres and a clever over-taker, Perez will seek to re-establish his credentials to stay in 2021 when the team is rebranded as an Aston Martin works squad.
Lance Stroll (Canada)
The 21-year-old son of team owner Lawrence Stroll has shaken off talk of his cushioned arrival in F1 with Williams in 2017 and shown raw speed and a competitive zeal that has been bolstered by his two years alongside Perez.
Improved consistency and concentration has shown signs of paying off and with a car improved by heavy investment in the team, 2020 could see Stroll and Perez enjoy a strong season at the head of the midfield battles.
Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)
Once derided as too young and inexperienced to merit an F1 seat, on arrival with Sauber in 2001, the 40-year-old Finn is the most experienced man in the field. After vintage years and the 2007 drivers title with Ferrari, plus seasons elsewhere, he is back where it all began, albeit under a new brand name for the Swiss team.
Unquestionably fast when his machinery is to his liking, Raikkonen scored nine points finishes last season and can improve on that this year, but is unlikely to add to his 21 victories.
Antonio Giovinazzi (Italy)
A focused and successful end to the 2019 season rescued the 26-year-old Italian’s future after he had looked certain to be released following an unimpressive and luckless opening half-year, including crashing at Spa.
The 2016 GP2 runner-up, behind Gasly, could emerge as an improving threat to reliable Raikkonen and secure a solid midfield place if he can maintain his progress.
Romain Grosjean (France)
After 164 Grands Prix and 10 podium finishes, the 34-year-old former GP2 champion remains as unpredictable as ever. Decisive, fast and spectacular at his best, he can also lose his way technically and temperamentally.
After a confusing 2019, when the team were troubled by aerodynamic issues, he and Haas will be aiming for a major improvement and a smooth intra-team relationship with his often-uncompromising teammate.
Kevin Magnussen (Denmark)
The 27-year-old Dane claimed a second-placed podium on his debut with McLaren in 2014 and has been without a repeat since that day. Fast and furious, famed for his aggression, Magnussen has been with Haas since 2017.
After 102 race starts, he is, like Grosjean, in need of an upturn in fortunes to revitalise belief in his early potential.
George Russell (Britain)
Despite enduring a year of running at the back of the field in a sub-standard Williams, the 22-year-old former GP3 and F2 champion Russell is a Mercedes academy graduate who impressed many with his poise and potential during his rookie season.
He out-qualified his vastly more experienced teammate Robert Kubica over the season and showed flashes of great quality in some races where he was less disadvantaged by his uncompetitive car.
Nicholas Latifi (Canada)
Like Lance Stroll, the 25-year-old Latifi is the son of a billionaire whose sponsorship of Williams has appeared to ease his passage from finishing second in the F2 championship with three race wins.
The team will need to ensure he has a decent car to enable him to learn rapidly from an established if younger teammate in what promises to be a challenging rookie season in F1.
Can Hamilton maintain focus?
The main threat to Lewis Hamilton’s bid to land a seventh drivers’ title is not Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas or Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but himself.
The sport’s first black champion has admitted he is committed to racing for more than personal or team triumphs.
“I’m racing for all of you out there who may feel that you don’t have a voice,” he said. “I’m going to shine my light and make as big a noise as I can to try and affect change.
“The only way I can do that is by being in it and changing it from within.”
He added: “In the world, in the society that we live in, I think making it as a young black kid from a council estate in Stevenage, making it to F1 through the tiniest window of opportunity — that’s a very, very important part of my journey and then staying there and continuing to deliver against adversity.
“You can have as many championships or wins as you want, but that is a challenge of itself and that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of.”
Asked where F1 should race, he added: “Africa. It’s such an important place to go back. At the moment, F1 goes to countries and doesn’t really leave much behind, if anything. Formula 1 has to shift into being a sport that does go to places and leaves behind something that can really help the communities.”
Will Verstappen step up?
Having proved his speed and racing talent, this is the time for Max Verstappen and Red Bull to seize their moment and emerge from the opening trio of races as championship leaders.
A year ago, the young Dutchman bullied his way to victory at the Red Bull Ring and a double repeat of that plus a strong result at Budapest would see the Milton Keynes-based team on top of the embryonic title race.
Pre-season testing in Barcelona suggested their car is fast, but also ‘skittish’ and may face reliability problems.
Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon have shown they can shine in challenging conditions and can beat Ferrari to take the fight to champions Mercedes.
Does Vettel feel free?
After confirming he is leaving Ferrari at the end of this year, Sebastian Vettel may feel freed and capable of delivering the consistency and speed that can inspire the team again despite the threat of Charles Leclerc.
The four-time champion has the speed and quality, but Ferrari have to deliver a car that can show immediate performance development.
Pre-season testing suggested that this year’s machine had sacrificed some of last year’s straight-line speed for improved pace in slow and medium corners.
To make the most of any jump forward, Vettel will first have to overcome the challenge from Monegasque Leclerc in his second year with the team and then try to impress any rival teams thinking of recruiting him for next year.
Can Williams and Russell keep rolling?
George Russell and Williams face a defining challenge after the famous British team was put up for sale during the lockdown – leaving their young and talented English driver racing for his future.
Russell, a member of the Mercedes junior driver programme, has promise but needs a stronger team in 2021 to prove himself unless Williams find resurgent form and haul themselves off the bottom of the championship.
Russell made good use of the lockdown to become F1’s ‘virtual champion’ during e-racing from his home computer and said recently he is “very excited” to return to the real thing.
“It’s going to be surreal, but I can’t wait for it,” he said. “I just want to be back in a car.”
Will Ricciardo be socially isolated at Renault?
Daniel Ricciardo is famous for his beaming smile and big hugs, but he has had to abandon his tactile approach as F1 returns in Austria.
Ricciardo decided during lockdown to leave Renault next year for McLaren. The fact that McLaren are switching to Mercedes engines was a factor – and one that may not have enhanced his standing with Renault as he starts his final season.
“I’ve got to keep my distance,” he admitted in a team video call last week. “We’re going to find some new ways to embrace each other, especially after a good result, but obviously we’re going to do what we can to keep this thing out of the paddock.”
The Briton currently earns approximately $65 million-a-year but reportedly wants that bumped up to around $72 million.
Both Mercedes and Hamilton are considered on good terms and likely to reach an agreement given Ferrari has already finalised its line-up for 2021.
Ferrari re-signing Charles Leclerc and recruiting Carlos Sainz Jr, however, could impact on Hamilton’s bargaining power given his alternatives have been reduced.
The length of the deal is also a topic of interest given Hamilton, 35, has flirted with the idea of retirement, while Wolff’s own long-term involvement at Mercedes is uncertain.
Sky Sports pundit Martin Brundle said: “If Toto left Mercedes and they rowed back on F1 in light of the pandemic issues and the cost cuts coming in, then I think Lewis might have to turn again to have a look at Ferrari. I would if I were him.
“I’ve spoken to him about being dressed in red and standing on that podium at Monza and looking at the crowd in Ferrari overalls. He said, ‘I love red, I’ve got red in my crash helmet, it’s the colour of passion’. But his stock answer is, ‘I’ve raced for Mercedes all of my F1 career’.”