Even after starring in a Netflix F1 reality series that showcased some of the most agonizing moments of his professional life, Pierre Gasly still loves the streaming service.
“When I’m in the plane, that’s pretty much what I’m doing,” Gasly, whose Formula One career has him in the air for several thousand miles annually, told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “I usually split the flight time half-Netflix, half-sleeping trying to recover while trying to catch up on all the messages that I have or catch up with my friends. I think it’s great entertainment, and the content they have is really cool, so I enjoy it.”
Gasly soon will be enjoying the third season of “Drive to Survive,” which will be released March 19. The behind-the-scenes look at the Formula One paddock has become a hit by shining a light on the series’ high drama, relentless pressure and internecine rivalries.
In the 2019 season that was the focus of last year’s 10 episodes, some of the most gripping moments came at Gasly’s expense.
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During the fifth episode (titled “Great Expectations”), his struggle to match the results of Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen is presented in excruciating detail through the F1 rounds at Monte Carlo, Montreal and Austria – which would be Gasly’s final race before being replaced by Alex Albon and shuffled to Red Bull’s midfield team for the final nine races.
In one brutal scene during the Montreal GP weekend, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko says, “Gasly is poor,” and team principal Christian Horner responds, “You or I could do it.”
Though there are uplifting moments with Gasly visiting his family’s home in Rouen, France, the show concludes with his name literally being stripped from a Red Bull Honda RB15.
It’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure to revel in watching the emotionally wrenching disappointment. But yet …
“It’s the best episode, right?” Gasly said with a laugh. “I’m glad you liked it.”
The narrative has changed since for the AlphaTauri driver, whose triumphs now will be featured in Season 3.
With his stunning victory last Sept. 6 at the renowned Monza circuit, Gasly (who turned 25 last month) became the youngest French driver to win in F1 and the first French winner since 1996.
He is looking forward to watching how the series will portray his 2020 season, though “obviously, it’s always kind of weird to see yourself.
“I watch a lot of Netflix, so seeing yourself in a Netflix series is kind of unusual,” said Gasly, who also starred in the Season 2 finale with the redemptive arc of a runner-up finish in Brazil. “but as a whole, I really liked the fact that Netflix focused on the personalities of the drivers, which is something that doesn’t obviously come out when you watch the races on Sunday. Getting out of the car and being interviewed 5 minutes after the race when the emotions are still quite high, and depending on if you had a good race or bad race, you can come across quite differently than the person you are.
“I like the fact they focused on the personality and who we are as persons and humans, rather than just the driver itself. I think it was great. The feedback I got from most of the people who watched the series was really positive. Even people who are not so connected to racing and motorsports in general just enjoyed the series and the characters.”
During a wide-ranging interview with NBC Sports, Gasly addressed what it was like to have a central role in “Drive to Survive”, his insight on IndyCar and NASCAR considering similar reality series for their drivers and his long-term outlook in Formula One (which is in the midst of preseason testing and will begin its 2021 season March 28 with the Bahrain Grand Prix).
Here are his thoughts (lightly edited for clarity):
Q: The episode that ended with your sacking was difficult to watch but also very compelling TV. Was it awkward to know that people were being entertained at your expense?
Gasly: “On my side, obviously I went through a lot in the last two years. The series wasn’t about myself. It was about Formula One. To sum up everything I lived in a year in 45 minutes, it’s pretty difficult. There were a lot more things that I wish would have been explained a bit more in details, but I think what they’ve done was great and gave an idea of what happened.
“It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of ups and downs in that year. And I think what came across was the most important message. At the end of the day, things don’t have to always come out in the media. As a professional, there are things that should not come out and be talked about only in between closed walls with the teams. Especially about the issues we had. So I kind of respect that, and I think the main message that came out was the right one. It was more about the series and about Formula One rather than myself and the situation was pretty much well explained, even though not everything came out. That’s fine.”
Q: Did you have the chance to see the show ahead of time to prepare for how you’d be portrayed, or did you see it with the rest of us?
Gasly: “I saw some short footage before it came out, and I got to see some of the stuff that unfortunately got deleted as well. I had a small idea of what was going up, but I didn’t know about the full last episode with the Brazilian podium, so that was still a surprise when I watched it for the first time. It’s always tricky when people kind of explain something that you live yourself. Obviously I have all the information, and I was a bit worried that the message that comes across would not be the right one, but even though you can’t explain everything in 45 minutes, I think they did a very good job.
“And the whole series was really good. I really enjoyed it, and I’m really happy that it brought a lot more exposure to Formula One, and we kind of managed to get more people excited about our sport, more people engaged with it. And that’s what we need, because at the end, F1, like any other sport, is entertainment. And we need to have a great show, and I think Netflix is promoting that really well. I think a very positive series. Last year was a good one, but I think the coming Season 3 will be even better. I hope everyone will enjoy that one.”
Q: Do you know if there will be a Season 3 episode solely about your victory at Monza?
Gasly: “(Laughs) I don’t know yet if it’s going to be a full one, but obviously, there’ll be (some) great footage from Monza. It should be quite exciting to watch. Last year was a great season for F1 in general. A lot of unexpected things happened, and obviously, there was my win, which was a pretty big highlight for the world championship, because for once it wasn’t Lewis or Red Bull who won the race and kind of made it a bit more interesting than usual.”
Q: Are you required by Liberty Media or Formula One to cooperate fully on “Drive to Survive,” and are there restrictions placed on the filming?
Gasly: “We are completely free to say whether we like it or not. There are certain things where these guys are going to be around, but if you tell them, ‘OK, I don’t want to share anything with you. I don’t want you guys to film this or record that or have the mic on’ or whatever, they’re fine with everything. They don’t want to be a heavy. They’re here to create the best content possible and try to show the world how it works in kind of a closed environment. Because F1 is kind of really private, exclusive. Not everyone’s got access to it, especially these days with the COVID, it’s even more difficult. So they kind of share that life and world which is ours, but we are still free to share as much as we want with them.”
Q: If we could have seen the Pierre Gasly Cut of your episode from Season 2, how would it have unfolded?
Gasly: “A lot of things happened in the first six months, and it was pretty tough because from the outside, that’s part of the sport. You’re judged really quickly without people knowing all the information. And sometimes it’s unfair. It should not be like that, even though I accept that everyone has their own opinions. I just wanted to be giving more information about exactly the situation and what’s happened and the issues we had. But at the end of the day, this wasn’t truly important. I think the second part of the year, it was kind of clear, and the message that was sent was the main one. And it wasn’t necessarily about me. So they gave F1 exposure, and I was happy with that.”
Q: It’s good you felt accurately depicted, and I know F1 can be cutthroat, but was it hard to watch Red Bull executives Christian Horner and Helmut Marko be highly critical while so publicly analyzing your driving performance?
Gasly: “At the end of the day, I told them they have their own opinions, but we all know exactly what’s happened. What comes up in the media and what they can say and what I can say is one thing, but deep inside me, I know what the reality is. At the end of the day, there are certain things that come with this, and I respect that. I’m professional. That’s the case in any sport. Not everything comes out, but deep inside me, I know exactly why the reasons it didn’t work, and whatever they say after that, it’s up to them. I have my values. That’s the most important thing.
“I always say I don’t want to start arguing in the media who is right, who is not, and all the things. I just say my answer is going to be on track with my performances. That’s the only way I’m going to answer to all the critics and all the things that didn’t go well in the first half of the year. I think there was no better way to do it than getting that podium in Brazil. And then the year after my first win with AlphaTauri.”
Q: What was it like for your family being involved in “Drive to Survive” and did that help people get to know you?
Gasly: “For sure, it does. Because the guy I am on track and in the paddock when I’m focused on my work, my passion, my dream — the only thing that matters is performance. Everything is going to be sacrificed toward my performance and trying to be the best on that day. But obviously, I have a life next to it. Pierre Gasly as a normal human is different than Pierre Gasly on track who is fighting for a race win or the best result he can with an F1 car.
“I think it came across pretty well. It’s not something I really prepared for, my family just ended up hugely helping me through my career. But it’s not like they expected to be a Netflix character when we started this whole project. But I think they did a pretty good job. It’s one thing that people don’t really see. I think in general, us athletes are really judged on our actions in the sport, and people can translate that to the kind of human and personality or person we are. Where actually I feel when I’m on track and doing my thing, I’m in a different zone. Mentally, I’m a different guy than I am in my normal life. It’s two very different environments with different targets and goals. I think they’re going a very good job with that.”
Q: During the 2020 season, Alex Albon went through an experience that was similar to yours at Red Bull. Are you curious about how that will be treated by Netflix producers this season, and what will it be like watching someone else go through what you did in Season 2?
Gasly: “Obviously I know what happened with myself. Alex, I don’t have information on why things didn’t go well. I saw that the way it has been managed and handled was very different to mine, so I think there were clearly lessons learned from our 2019 year. I think things were pretty well handled, and they tried to give him as much time as possible. I don’t know why it didn’t work. Obviously in the series, I don’t know what’s going to come out (in Season 3). Probably not everything. Because with these things when everything is fine and everything is shining and everybody is winning, it’s easy to show the entire bigger picture. But when it doesn’t go well, it’s always a bit awkward. I guess we’ll find out in the series when it comes out.”
Q: There’s a lot of talk about doing similar documentary series for NASCAR and IndyCar. What would be your advice to NASCAR and IndyCar drivers who might consider it?
Gasly: “I think it’s pretty cool. Also for myself, I’d like to see it. I didn’t get the chance to see NASCAR in real life and being part of the paddock and knowing all the stories and what’s going on. So as a fan of motorsports, I would love to understand that. I’ll be the first one to watch. I think it’s great to give access to people to certain things which are really private or exclusive where people can’t really experience. And to give a better idea of the sport. I think it had a really positive impact on Formula One. I’m sure it would have one on any other sports. So I clearly advise that.
This would be welcome news for #nascar, but the bar also is high after the first two seasons of "Drive to Survive" (particularly Ferrari/Mercedes joining last year).
Related: Season 3 is next week; I'll have an interview soon with an @F1 driver prominently featured in S2 and 3. https://t.co/QgdpS9e05F
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) March 10, 2021
“And yeah, to all the drivers, at the end of the day, just be yourself. That’s the only thing that you are asked. No one is really seeking anything. They just want to show your sport, what you’re doing and the chance that we have as athletes to do something we love. Not everybody can work from his or her passion of following his or her dreams, and we get the chance to do that and live an amazing life and experience amazing things. I think it’s great to share that with the people and connect with them in that way. I’ll be happy to watch a series on these sports, and hopefully they can make it happen.”
Q: What else do you enjoy watching on Netflix?
Gasly: “I watch all sorts of series. I really loved the Michael Jordan series (“The Last Dance”). I was already a pretty big fan, but watching it, I just really enjoyed the personality. The mentality. And how much he was just pushing himself to be the best. It was just quite inspiring as an athlete. And I watch all sorts of stuff not related to sports. ‘Stranger Things’ and all the top series that you see on there.”
Q: After your victory at Monza, there were some memorable photos of you holding your head in your hands on the podium after the celebration. What were you thinking about?
Gasly: “A lot of things. Obviously, my first win in F1 is a moment I dreamt about so many times since I was a kid, and it was really important with so many emotions crossing my mind that I wanted to take a moment just for myself to enjoy because the first one is very unique. It’s a very iconic moment in a career. After Brazil, after my first podium, I remember waking up on Monday morning and thinking, ‘This went so fast.” I was thinking I would have loved to spend more time on the podium and just enjoying all this atmosphere and all this emotions that it gives you.
“We work really hard. We train really hard. There’s a lot of preparation, a lot of sacrifices during all the career to get to these moments. And in Monza, I won, and I said ‘OK, just enjoy every second of it. And take a moment for you.’ Just to go through all my thoughts and emotions at that time.”
Q: Are you curious how countryman Romain Grosjean (whose fiery crash at Bahrain will be prominently featured in Season 3 of “Drive to Survive”) will do in his move to IndyCar?
Gasly: “Yeah, I’m following, obviously. I think it’s going to be super exciting to see how Romain is adapting to IndyCar, how fast he is and what he can achieve there. He is a very talented driver. One of the most successful French drivers. So I think it’s great. He finished his career in a particular way. I think he was a bit gutted to leave the sport in that fashion and would have loved to have driven in Abu Dhabi for the last race. But I still find it pretty amazing that he’s able to jump back in the car and still compete and still go racing.
“I’m really excited to follow the season and have a couple of friends racing in (IndyCar). I think it’s a great show. I love the fact that the performance of the cars are quite similar, so everybody gets a chance to win or fight for podiums or top fives, and there is usually quite a lot of things happening in the races. So I find it pretty cool to watch.”
Q: Which other IndyCar drivers do you know, and does it seem as if there is more interest in IndyCar from Europe and elsewhere?
Gasly: “I know Felix Rosenqvist, I raced against him (in Formula E). I know Pato (O’Ward) as well. I know Conor (Daly). I was close to Tristan Vautier as well. Obviously I follow (Sebastien) Bourdais. And all the guys have been there a very long time. Since I’m a kid, I saw these names fighting up there for championships, and I always find it really exciting that the races are kind of unpredictable. A lot more than F1, even if we are going in that direction. We showed last year F1 is making steps in that direction and giving more chances to everyone to finish on the podiums. But I find IndyCar very exciting and clearly will make sure I’ll watch it even more with Romain joining the field.”
Q: You appear to be in great shape, but you also posted in January that you had become the sixth F1 driver to contract COVID-19. Are you fully recovered?
Gasly: “I’m quite lucky. It was very, very small. Really mild symptoms. I just felt like I had a runny nose for a couple of days and coughed a little for three to four days. My energy level was still good. Obviously, I had to isolate. We had a gym, and I managed to get all the equipment I needed to keep training during that period in my house. I was isolating with my trainer with me. It didn’t have much of an impact on my preparation.
“Quite lucky. I’m fully recovered. I’ve done my physical assessment at the Red Bull Training Center in Austria a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty happy. I’ve improved. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. Fully energized to attack this coming season with 23 races, which is going to be pretty intense, the most intense season I’m going to do in F1.”
AT02💙 @AlphaTauriF1 pic.twitter.com/ZwNwuAZVjH
— PIERRE GASLY 🇫🇷 (@PierreGASLY) February 19, 2021
Q: You’ve begun preparing for 2021. With the new F1 rules, is the team essentially starting in the same place as last season with the car?
Gasly: “So, that’s how it looks based on the regulations, but the small changes they have made actually impact the performance of the car quite a lot. I guess we could see a bit of unexpected things, maybe in performance. There was quite a lot of things going on over the winter trying to recover the performance we’d lost with the new regulations. Even if it doesn’t look that big, still the drop of downforce was quite important. I think we’re pretty happy with our development, but it obviously depends on how the others have improved, so I guess we’ll get an answer on our performance in Bahrain for the first test of the year.”
Q: There are several big-name drivers who are in contract years for 2021. Coming off the Monza victory and the Netflix series helping elevate your profile, could this be a pivotal season for you take that next step in F1?
Gasly: “Exactly, that’s a target. Obviously, at the moment, I’m really focused on the coming season without thinking too much about the future. But there will be a time when we need to look further and look what other opportunities for the future. I think it’s still too early to have any idea on how the market is going to move. There will be opportunities, but that’s what I believe is opportunities come with strong results, strong performances.
“Yeah, it’s true, the last one and a half years have been amazing for me. I know I’m performing better than ever. With a bit more experience, I’m entering my fourth season in Formula One, won my first race in F1 last year. I keep pushing. I want more from F1. I want to win and fight for world championships, and that’s my target. I’ll just keep pushing and trying to show the best skills possible on track, and we’ll see the opportunities and what exciting opportunities we have for the future at the end of the year.”
The third season of “Drive to Survive” will be available March 19 on Netflix; the trailer was released last week.