The Frenchman clocked the fifth fastest time in Friday’s FP2 session and then stunned rivals by being quickest in FP3 on Saturday. Come qualifying he was in the fight for pole position, and was ultimately beaten only by Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
Even more remarkably, he was only 0.002s behind championship leader Verstappen, and just 0.115s shy of world champion Hamilton.
Gasly has qualified in the top six four times so far this season, but his pace relative to the frontrunners over the 3.73 mile Baku lap came as a surprise.
“Honestly. It’s really incredible today,” Gasly said when asked by Autosport why AlphaTauri is performing so strongly.
“I mean, P1 in P3, we didn’t really understand where it came from. I just pushed and all the weekend I just did my thing, and just clicked to the car.
“It seems to be working really well on this track, and the same in quali. At the end of the day I think we were fighting for the pole with the Mercedes, the Ferrari and the Red Bull and up to sector two I think we were still in the fight for pole and losing a bit in the last straight, as Charles had a tow.
“To be in a position to fight for such a thing is not something that we’ve seen often in this team. And it really shows the good momentum and the good work that we’re all doing.”
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Gasly’s pace was especially surprising given that the car tended to struggle in low-speed corners earlier in the season, notwithstanding his strong run to finish sixth in Monaco.
Although the Baku track has a long flat-out blast from Turn 16 to Turn 1, most of the corners where the cars can make up or loose time are relatively slow.
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
“I think if the team knew, and I knew [the reason for the upswing], then you will see us in that position every weekend,” Gasly added.
“At the moment I don’t have the answer. The only thing I can point out is Monaco has been our strongest weekend, a street track, quite low speed corners, and the set-up there is quite different.
“We’re coming here Baku, a street track, quite bumpy, very low speed [corners], so set-up is again quite different than usual.
“There must be something we need to analyse and understand, because at the start of the year low speed was not our strength.
“Here we don’t have any medium or high speed corners, so we don’t need to focus in these areas, and the car seems to work.
“At the moment I have no answer, but clearly some work for us to be done and to understand that.”
Unlike his rivals, Gasly has saved two sets of hard tyres for the race to open up a soft-hard-hard strategy, depending on how safety cars fall.
“I’m really happy because we made a choice to keep two hard tyres, which cost us a set of soft tyres for quali – we had only four sets, compared to most of the guys, who had five sets,” he explained.
“We knew it will be slightly more tricky for us, but at the end of the day, I think it gives us a bit more flexibility with the strategy.
“We’re not fighting for anything, I’m not fighting for the championship, I’m not really fighting for anything and when you have a weekend when the car works well then just need to use it and hope for the best result we can.
“We’ve got to be at the finish. For sure there will be a lot of things happening, but at the same time we need to go aggressive, and try to do the best best job we can.”