By Marcelo Teixeira
SAOPAULO (Reuters) – French driver Pierre Gasly stood on the Formula One podium for the first time in his career on Sunday and said it felt simply insane.
Dropped by Red Bull in August after under-performing as Max Verstappen’s team mate, he stood alongside the 22-year-old winning Dutchman as Brazilian Grand Prix runner-up for Honda-powered Toro Rosso.
That was the best result for the Italy-based Red Bull junior team since Sebastian Vettel, now a four-times world champion, took the first race win of his career with them at a wet Monza in 2008.
“It’s just the best day of my life. As a kid you dream about being in Formula One, and then when it happens it becomes the best day of your life and then after you dream about your first podium,” said Gasly.
“To be fair, I didn’t think this would happen, coming back with Toro Rosso during the second part of the season.
“My first podium in F1 is just… just insane, amazing and really emotional for me.”
The 23-year-old’s best previous result was fourth — in Bahrain with Toro Rosso last year and in Britain with Red Bull in July.
Promoted from Toro Rosso to the senior team after Australian Daniel Ricciardo stunned Red Bull by joining Renault, Gasly lasted just 12 races before having to switch places with Thai rookie Alexander Albon.
Albon has now been confirmed for 2020 at Red Bull, with Gasly staying at Toro Rosso.
Gasly let out a lung-busting scream as he took the chequered flag, a mere 0.1 of a second ahead of the Mercedes of six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton and he struggled to focus on the podium.
“You just have like thousands of thoughts going through your mind,” he said.
“I thought about Anthoine (Hubert, the late French F2 driver) who passed away earlier this season, one of my best buddies who would have dreamed to be up there. I thought about all the people who supported me.
“I have never imagined this would happen. In Brazil, in a Toro Rosso, second place and fighting Lewis on the line is just incredible.”
Hamilton was later penalised five seconds for a penultimate lap collision with Albon that denied Red Bull a one-two and allowed Gasly to get ahead of the Briton.
Team boss Franz Tost said Gasly had fitted back in straight away after his return from Red Bull, as if he had never been away.
“He drove a very close race. He saved the tyres… how he drove today was really first class,” said the Austrian.
“It seems the Italian air is better for him than the English,” he joked. “The food is of course better.”
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Christian Radnedge)