A relaxed Pierre Gasly greets RacingNews365 at Zandvoort as Formula 1 reconvenes after the summer break.
The Frenchman spent August taking stock of a challenging first half of the season with his new Alpine team as the performance of the A523 has not lived up to expectations and a lot of upheaval with senior team management.
Switching from AlphaTauri to Alpine was Gasly's chance to kick on after spending a year too long with the team that gave him his F1 debut in 2017 and then helped him rebuild his shattered confidence after being demoted after only half a season at Red Bull in 2019.
He claimed a maiden Grand Prix win at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, with further standout performances in 2021 marking him out as a consistent, upwardly mobile driver.
But this term the Alpine move had yet to pay off with just 22 points to his name, a couple of inadvertent crashes with teammate Esteban Ocon and the thoughts of what could have been.
He does not yet feel fully at ease with the A523 machine but is taking a forward-thinking approach of experiencing the pain now with the promise of rewards in the future.
Competitive mindset key for Gasly
"I'm super competitive, I need competition in my life," Gasly exclusively tells RacingNews365.
"After a week [off], I'm already [feeling] like I want to go on track with these guys and get my elbows out. It is such a unique feeling that you have [driving the car] that you can miss it very quickly.
"That's why in my time off, I've got to find competition every single day. It is quite tiring for my friends as I'll non-stop be challenging them at paddleball, at volleyball. We will go to the beach, and I can't lie down, I need to challenge someone with a beach racquet.
"I just need this in my life, I am able to switch off and enjoy the time to mentally recharge, but I will always have this competitive mindset."
Performances don't equal luck
Last season was strong for Alpine as upgrades added to the car worked as intended with a strong fourth in the standings the reward for the Enstone team.
Given the slump AlphaTauri experienced in the first year of the ground effect rules, it appeared Gasly made the move from Faenza to Oxfordshire at exactly the right time but Alpine has stalled this term with only 57 points at the half-way mark.
Gasly's best finish before Zandvoort was seventh in Monaco [with a third in the Belgian Sprint]: "For sure [the points I have scored] don't reflect in a fair way the performance that we have showed, but to an extent, it will not change massively the bigger picture of where we stand in the teams' championship.
"Obviously there are big results that we have missed like Australia [where fifth was set to be secured before the final lap restart and crash with Ocon] which is the obvious one, we missed the podium in Monaco through strategy and we've missed a couple of P8s through other issues.
"It is obviously frustrating because when you come into a new team, you want things to come your way, but at the same time, I'd rather get the bad luck out of the way now, especially in a season where we have not lived up to the expectations that we set ourselves at the start of the year.
"Surely the bad luck has to end at some point, so I have just got to keep my head down and focus on trying to push the team forward and focus on what I can bring to them."
And so the bad luck did end in the Netherlands as Gasly and Alpine executed the perfect race in difficult, changing conditions to jump its rivals.
From 12th on the grid, the Frenchman timed switches between slick and Intermediate tyres to perfection and after a late race penalty for Red Bull's Sergio Perez, he was promoted onto the podium - his first since Azerbaijan in 2021.
"I'd rather get the bad luck out of the way now"
2024 a fresh start
Gasly was announced by Alpine on the eve of last year's Japanese Grand Prix, meaning the A523 was already firmly in development and his impact on the design was minimal.
It means he is at a disadvantage to incumbent Ocon who has been at the team since 2020, but Gasly is looking forward to rectifying this with the A524 machine for next season.
"This year's car is an evolution driven by Esteban and Fernando's [Alonso] feedback, and I will have a bigger input on next season's car," he confirms.
"There are clear things that I am trying to get from the car since the start of the year which I can't at the moment. It is car and package specific.
"We've tried different directions to try achieve [a balance], but it is never quite there.
"So on my side, it is trying to adapt to [the car] and get the best from it, but I know there is more performance coming if we manage to unlock these areas of the car which will allow me to get even more from it.
Small improvements equal big change?
As Alpine failed to kick on at the start of the year, midfield rivals Aston Martin and McLaren have both taken giant leaps forward in terms of performance.
Aston Martin has banked six podiums while McLaren's Austria and British Grands Prix upgrade has transformed the MCL60 into a regular podium-contending machine.
By comparison, Alpine has not made the same steps forward, with Gasly identifying the sum of making small improvements could drastically improve the team's fortunes.
"When you are missing a second [in performance], it is everywhere," he says.
"You can't just spot where the gap is and point to a specific characteristic, it is everywhere.
"We can obviously do better, extract more from the engine, find more downforce from the car, be better operationally and how we maximise the package that we have on track.
"It is so close in the midfield that even small steps will be rewarding, or costly, depending on what way it goes.
"But it is the overall package where we need to try and raise all the parameters, one or two percent to really close that gap [to the top teams].
"I'm not blind, I know that it is very competitive and that it is not easy, but there is not a lack of desire to do it - it is just Formula 1 is extremely complex.
"The guys are pushing flat out, and it can come in two weeks or in six months, it is a bit of the uncertainty of the sport and the complexity of it.
"But what we can control is making sure that the package we are given on the racetrack, we maximise it.
"That is what we are trying to do, and we are doing a decent job, but we can always do better."