Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley came close to taking each other out in a dramatic moment near the end of the first round of Saturday’s qualifying session in Baku.
Hartley was running at low speed after hitting the wall and suffering a puncture.
Meanwhile Gasly was on a flying lap when he came up behind his touring team mate. The Frenchman had only a fraction of a second to react to avoid a devastating collision.
“It was really scary,” Gasly said afterwards. “Probably the scariest moment of my career!
“I was sure I was going to crash into Brendon, because it’s the part of the track where we’re going at 320kph,” he noted. “I could already see myself in the air.”
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Gasly hadn’t been warned about Hartley’s predicament and had been taken completely by surprise to see the car running so slowly ahead of him.
“I don’t know what happened to Brendon, he slowed down massively,” he said. “I am sure he didn’t do it on purpose. But he was on the line, I wasn’t sure if he was going to go on line or not.”
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Gasly pointed out that this was why it wasn’t a good idea for a team to have both cars out at the same point on track at the same time.
“I am sure it wasn’t on purpose, maybe next time we need a bigger gap between two cars,” he commented. “It’s clear that no one wanted anything like this to happen.
“But it’s the second time we’ve had a coming together,” he said, recalling the clash in Shanghai. “We need to make sure that we avoid situations like these.”
Hartley apologised for the incident, although he added that he’d been unaware that Gasly was catching him so rapidly at the time.
“I made a big mistake, I’m sorry for him,” Hartley said. “I owe him a big apology for getting in the way and nearly causing a huge accident. I’m disappointed how that went down. Not a good day.
“It was a disaster of a day. I hadn’t done a lap until the point of the incident because the previous ones were interrupted by yellow flags,” he explained. “Then I clipped the inside wall very lightly.
“At the beginning I didn’t think there was any damage so I was still pushing, then I realised going through the fast left-hander that there was a puncture. I had to slow down immediately trying to avoid hitting the wall,
“I knew I had an issue and slowed down. I was unaware Pierre was so close behind me,” he continued. “Obviously I was going half speed, trying to figure how bad the problem was and I completely messed it up.
“The problem is, with the walls, you don’t see them coming,” he said. “When I looked in the mirrors I moved to the left and that’s the same way he wanted to go.”
Hartley never did get to set a lap time in Q1. The incident also meant that Gasly was unable to escape the elimination zone. As a result, Gasly will start Sunday’s race from 17th place on the grid, with Harley one row behind in 19th.
“This situation was very well managed by Pierre to avoid a collision,” said Toro Rosso technical director James Key. “Sadly, that meant that his tyres, battery, time available and so on were not set for another lap.
“He effectively had to abandon his qualifying after the incident. It’s a great shame because I think his pace was looking quite reasonable.”
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