Red Bull must be cruel to be kind and take Gasly out of F1 now
As Red Bull jumped with jubilation at Max Verstappen's Austrian Grand Prix victory, the other half of the team's garage might have been somewhat more subdued.
Pierre Gasly came home seventh at the team's eponymous circuit, and the result is the latest in a growing line of sub-par efforts from a driver that is increasingly looking bereft of ideas and unable to handle his promotion to Red Bull's flagship squad.
While Verstappen recovered from a dreadful launch to pass six rivals – his team-mate one of them – en route to victory, Gasly could not break through the midfield and suffered the ignominy of being lapped by the sister car, despite suffering no immediately obvious technical issues.
After anti-stalled dropped him back from the front row, Verstappen wasted no time in getting back among the front-runners, taking just five laps to clear the McLaren of Lando Norris and then Kimi Raikkonen's Alfa Romeo.
It took Gasly nine laps to get the better of Raikkonen. The Finn is typically compliant when drivers pull into his mirrors with overspeed, but he had his elbows out for Gasly, who backed out of several openings.
Gasly never made it beyond Norris, the 19-year-old having pulled off a fine pass of his own on Raikkonen in the opening stages.
He is now 83 points worse off than Verstappen in the drivers' championship, and has contributed a mere 25% of the team's points so far in 2019.
That has naturally led to suggestions that Dr Helmut Marko's notoriously twitchy trigger finger could come into action sooner rather than later.
For the sake of Gasly's career, maybe it should.
As the races go by and Gasly's performances get worse, the questions about his future – many of them directed to his face – grow stronger and more frequent. That can't be easy to deal with in any environment, never mind on the F1 grid, where the 20 best drivers in the world are supposed to congregate to race every other week or so.
Confidence is clearly low. As much can be seen in the media pens, and particularly on the track.
As has been repeated ad nauseum this year, Verstappen is a difficult team-mate to compare yourself to.
But Gasly simply isn't doing a good enough job and his downward spiral needs to be cut off before it gets worse.
Signs point to a decision of this nature being close on the horizon too. Even before the Austria race, Marko revealed that Gasly's car will be dismantled and thoroughly investigated. If no faults are found, that only means one thing, surely…
The man who would likely replace Gasly, Daniil Kvyat, shows that losing your place in the top team does not mean the end of your career.
However, Kvyat's previous plight also shows that Red Bull need to take decisive action.
Of course, the Russia was himself dropped from Red Bull in the early stages of 2016, paving the way for Verstappen's promotion in the process, after a string of errors, many of which impacted Sebastian Vettel, at that time not too long departed from the team he had led to four straight titles.
Kvyat was sent back to Toro Rosso, but the move only served to destroy his confidence further and he only made the points three times in the remaining 17 races of the season, before 2017 got even worse.
The Russian had scored four points compared to team-mate Carlos Sainz's 48 when it was decided that he was simply not up to it, and Gasly – of all people! – was drafted in to replace him in the junior team.
Kvyat has since negotiated his way out of the tail-spin, spending an informative year in Ferrari's simulator and is a completely different driver in 2019, having returned for a third stint in the Toro Rosso.
Kvyat has got more or less as much he could have out of the STR14, allowing for the minefield nature of F1's midfield and would be a calming foil for Verstappen if the Dutchman is to truly launch into the stratosphere over the remainder of 2019.
Maybe the junior programme's factory line will have to be abandoned if no suitable Toro Rosso driver is available in the short term, but letting Gasly fully decompress before returning to the sister squad in 2020 is the fairest way of treating a driver who has clear talents, which he has shown fleetingly in F1 before.
Last year's drives in Bahrain, Monaco and Hungary prove that Gasly has the minerals for F1, not to mention his GP2 series win and near-miss in Super Formula that might have secured another championship with clearer skies in Suzuka.
But a team looking to make inroads on a title fight that has seen Mercedes dominate Ferrari in recent years cannot afford half an entry.
Red Bull admit that Gasly landed in the top team ahead of schedule as a result of Daniel Ricciardo's shock departure and, for now, ripping the sticking plaster of his time at the top – however brief it has been – may be the kindest way to handle a young driver whose future at this level may depend on it.
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