You had to feel for Pierre Gasly on Sunday. As if an early retirement after a scary spin wasn’t bad enough, the Frenchman was struck by debris on the opening lap in Sochi...
Both Toro Rosso drivers suffered bizarre, near-identical spins within a matter of seconds of each other in the early part of Sunday's race, with Gasly almost reaching the barrier at Turn 4 and team mate Brendon Hartley swapping ends at Turn 2.
Both retired shortly afterwards with brake issues identified as the cause, but Gasly had already had a fright when running at the back of the field at the start.
“I didn’t start so well, we had a little combustion issue at the start so I got the anti-stall starting the race,” Gasly said. “So I lost places. Then I arrived at Turn 1 and the brake pedal was very long. For the first two laps I could feel it was getting longer and longer, it was a strange feeling.
“Before that at Turn 1 I think Daniel [Ricciardo] lost a piece of carbon that went straight into my visor. This was really, really scary because I thought it was going through and straight in my eye, but it hit my visor and fell in the cockpit, so in Turn 4 I had to take the carbon piece and throw it from the cockpit.
Double trouble early on for Toro Rosso as Gasly and Hartley spin with brake issues
“Then after that the brake pedal just got worse and worse, just got really long, so I asked the team what’s going on and they said at the time that they had lost the front left brake sensor. Coming into Turn 4 on lap three or four I just braked and the pedal went completely flat and I had lost the front brakes. So I had all the pressure at the rear, spun the car and having lost the front brakes we had to retire the car.”
Toro Rosso retired both cars to investigate the brake issue - with Team Principal Franz Tost later saying a piston had become stuck in the brake callipers on both cars, causing overheating brake fluid - but Gasly says his bigger fear was the moment he saw a piece of carbon fibre was going to hit his helmet.
“I need to check [the helmet] because I didn’t check after the race. But just at the time I had 0.5s to see it flying and hitting the visor. It was like a winglet that maybe came from somewhere from contact with Daniel, but it came like pointing towards me and straight at my right eye.
“When I saw it coming I thought ‘F**k it’s going through the visor’, but the visor is really strong because it just hit it and fell into the cockpit.
“It’s going super-fast but still I had time to have all these thoughts and see it coming. So in these kind of moments you’re processing it quite fast.”
Gasly will hope for answers from his team regarding the brake issue by the time he hits the track again in Japan on Friday, when he says he will also inform FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting of the debris incident.
“Maybe we need to keep trying to improve the thickness of the visor and try to make it as strong as possible. For sure the speed has an effect as well on the impact, at that time I was coming out of Turn 2 so I wasn’t so fast. So maybe the impact with it was luckily not as big as if I had been at 300km/h.”