By Abhishek Takle
MANAMA (Reuters) – Pierre Gasly was as stunned as anyone after qualifying his Honda-powered Toro Rosso in sixth place for Sunday’s Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
“We thought it would be quite difficult to get into the top 10,” the 22-year-old, who will start fifth due to world champion Lewis Hamilton having a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change, told reporters.
“We expected to be close to the top 10, not to be sixth and start fifth for the race tomorrow.”
Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso have teamed up with Honda as their engine partner this season, with some expecting plenty of frustration ahead.
The Japanese manufacturer endured a bruising three years with McLaren, marked by a lack of reliability and performance blamed chiefly on its engines by the former champions who have now switched to Renault.
Instead, Toro Rosso have made a promising start after looking quick and reliable in pre-season testing even if Honda still have plenty of work to do to catch up with rivals on reliability and performance.
Gasly’s performance on Saturday around the 5.4-km Sakhir desert circuit, which features four long straights, came as a shock.
The Frenchman, in his first full season, qualified just one place behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo with an effort he described as his best lap so far in Formula One.
He said Toro Rosso, who have introduced minor upgrades to their car for this weekend, had found the right set up.
“I’m especially happy for the team, because they are working really hard,” he said.
“Also for Honda, it’s good to show them that all the hard work is starting to pay off, and that they need to keep pushing and keep giving us some upgrades.”
McLaren, who have the same engines that power Red Bull, failed to get either of their cars beyond the second phase of qualifying with Fernando Alonso 13th and Stoffel Vandoorne 14th.
“There is a need for a big investigation,” the former champions’ racing director Eric Boullier, who did not attend his regular Saturday media call with journalists as he was in an engineering debrief, told Sky Sports F1.
“We need to find out what’s going on.”
When asked if he had taken extra satisfaction from outqualifying both McLarens, Gasly laughed: “I didn’t say it on the radio, but yeah, for sure.”
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)