RACE DEBRIEF

    Pierre Gasly qualified a fine P4 for the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and the Frenchman was once again demonstrating his affinity with the Imola track on the Friday of the 2021 race weekend, ending Free Practice 2 in P3, and less than a tenth off Valtteri Bottas’ session-leading time – and drawing praise from a seven-time world champion in the process...

    Gasly started his day well by going fifth fastest for AlphaTauri in FP1, at the Imola track that’s based just 15km from the team’s Faenza HQ. But once the qualifying simulations of FP2 had been run, Gasly was surprised to find himself in a stunning P3 and just 0.078s off Bottas’ time – albeit that the Finn had set his fastest lap on medium tyres compared the softs of Gasly, while Lewis Hamilton was only 0.068s faster than Gasly on the same tyre.

    READ MORE: Bottas quickest in FP2 as Verstappen stops on track and late Leclerc shunt halts second practice early

    “I think it was one of our best Fridays,” said Gasly. “P5 this morning, P3 this afternoon and so close from the top guys. It’s been a really good day for us, I felt really good in the car since the first lap. I managed to push pretty hard, drove the way I want and I think we’re looking pretty good.

    “We focused on the short run initially on the soft tyres, which looked pretty good pace-wise, then after we did a couple of laps in high fuel for the race,” he added. “And just to have a first feel with the degradation – obviously I think on Sunday the conditions are going to be quite different, but we managed to go through all the run plan we had and we’re pretty happy with the day we had.”

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    Gasly ended up P3 in FP2, just 0.078s off Bottas' time

    One driver whose eye had been caught by Gasly’s impressive time was Hamilton himself, who praised the Frenchman, saying: “Alphatauri, I think they’ve done an amazing job, they’re looking incredibly fast. It’s really great that Pierre has a good car underneath him and I’m excited to see him up there.”

    However, despite the lauding from Hamilton, Gasly said he was keeping his feet on the ground when it came to the idea of fighting with Mercedes and AlphaTauri sister team Red Bull for victory honours at Imola.

    READ MORE: Former team mates Ocon and Perez explain ‘unfortunate’ crash that put them both out of FP1

    “We’ve got to stay quite calm and focused on our targets,” said Gasly. “Mercedes have a lot faster car than we have. We know they have margin… but I think we’re just focusing on ourselves and trying to understand how to improve our car, improve our pace compared to our main rivals, which I guess is Ferrari, McLaren and probably Alpine as well.

    “So far it’s been a good Friday, but I think we can find a bit more tomorrow in quali.”

    2021 Emilia Romagna GP FP2: Gasly almost hits AlphaTauri team mate Tsunoda

    Meanwhile, Gasly’s team mate Yuki Tsunoda ended FP2 in an also-promising P7 – after narrowly avoiding a collision with Gasly, as seen in the video above – but was left ruing a power unit issue that restricted him to just 11 laps in FP1, and left him down in last place.

    “This session was a lot better than FP1,” said Tsunoda after second practice. “We had a big issue in the engine [in FP1], so I just did four laps total in the push laps… But this free practice went well, I think the engine modes were sorted and also I did race sim and quali sim, a performance run, so that was quite good.

    READ MORE: Mercedes duo 'much happier' at Imola than in Bahrain - but wary of Red Bull threat

    “For now, I’m just building up the pace, which I couldn’t do in Free Practice 1. So hopefully we’ll be better in Free Practice 3 but we’ll see.”

    Gasly, meanwhile, will be looking to exact revenge in Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, after his strong qualifying last year came to naught when a radiator issue side-lined him after just eight laps of the race.