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DUMPED DRIVER BACK IN BUSINESS

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IT’S been a hard road for the winner of the Italian Grand Prix, writes PETER COSTER:

PIERRE Gasly sat alone on the podium steps on Sunday long after the French and Italian national anthems had died away.

The coronavirus virus dispensed with the usual wildly cheering race crowds and the Frenchman took a reflective swig from a magnum of champagne after winning the Italian Grand Prix.

Gasley’s career has been revived at Alpha Tauri after being dumped from Red Bull last year.

The 24-year-old was promoted from the Toro Rosso team, now renamed as Alpha Tauri, but replaced at Red Bull by fellow Toro Rosso driver Alexander Albon.

Now it is Albon who is struggling to find form at Red Bull, which owns the Italian-based Alpha Tauri and uses it as a feeder team.

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Names change in Formula One faster than you can say Red Bull Aston Martin, the Aston Martin having been added along with the money it has tipped into the Austrian-owned team’s bank account.

Gasly found the step up to the senior team daunting in the shadow of Max Verstappen at a time when he was struggling with the death of his close friend Anthoine Hubert in an F2 race at Spa last year.

Gasly and Hubert were flatmates and the fellow French driver’s death left him seriously depressed.

Gasly was to lose his seat at Red Bull but showed at Monza that he is one of the coming generation of F1 drivers.

Age has crept up on the old guard of Lewis Hamilton, now 36, Sebastian Vettel, 33, Daniel Ricciardo, 31 and Fernando Alonso, who returns to F1 next year at the age of 39.

The oldest man on the grid is Kimi Raikkonen at 40. Both are former world champions.

Gasly found himself leading at Monza, the fastest of the world’s Grand Prix circuits, where two thirds of the lap is at full throttle.

That’s without the old Monza banking, which has an angle of up to 80 degrees and is no longer used, weeds growing between the cracks in the concrete on what was a wall of death where so many drivers died.

Six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton would have won on Sunday had he not been penalised with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for ignoring two red signals at the entry to the pit lane.

Hamilton found himself relegated to the back of the field when the race restarted following Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crash into the tyre barrier on lap 23.

“I tried to push it, but I lost it into Parabolica,” said Leclerc. Sebastian Vettel had already retired after his brakes failed and he ran through the polystyrene bollards on the run up to the same corner, continuing Ferrari’s humiliating 2020 season.

Racing Point’s Lance Stroll found himself leading the field at the restart with Gasly behind him.

But not for long. Gasly swept into the lead followed by McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who said he would have passed Gasly in the Alpha Tauri given another lap.

But the race was over 53 laps, not 54.

Sainz must now be doubting his move to Ferrari next year, with Ricciardo jumping into the seat the Spanish driver has vacated at McLaren and McLaren changing to Mercedes power.

Lance Stroll was third in the Racing Point and Lando Noris fourth in the second McLaren with Valtteri Bottas fifth in the second Mercedes and Daniel Ricciardo sixth in the Renault. Lewis Hamilton had carved his way through the field into seventh place.

Max Verstappen retired with a mechanical problem after the restart and Red Bull’s Albon finished 15th after a disappointing race that must have Reds Bull principal Christian Horner wondering whether letting Gasly go was such a good idea.

What became a reverse order at the end of the Italian Grand Prix restarted the debate on reverse grids.

This would see the slowest cars in qualifying at the front of the starting grid and the crowd presumably entertained as the fastest cars were then forced to fight their way to the front.

Qualifying would become a race to be slowest and would need to be replaced by a handicap system based on previous race results where teams would run dead in the hope of a better start.

Enough said.

The Tuscan Ferrari 1000 Grand Prix, celebrating Ferrari’s 1000th race, will be held at the Mugello circuit in Italy this Sunday.

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Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.

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