Formula One: Pierre Gasly shuns virtual world for Dubai fitness campaign

French driver decides against F1's simulation races to spend extra time working with his physical trainer in the UAE

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Pierre Gasly admitted on Sunday that he was happy to shun Formula One's hastily-organised virtual world as he concentrates on getting "physically stronger" by training in Dubai.

The French driver had been ready to hit the ground running for last week's scheduled season-opener in Melbourne.

However, the global spread of the deadly coronavirus virus saw Melbourne cancelled with six other races also shelved, including the sport's crown jewel of Monaco.

"When I arrived in Australia, I had almost zero jet lag, I felt great. But when they announced that we would not be racing, it hit me," said 24-year-old Gasly to AFP. "I had been so excited, there had been so much preparation with the team and physically all winter.

"At the time, we were a little frustrated not to be racing because that is what I want to do and it's what motivates me. But when you see the situation, there is no way to avoid postponing events, sports or otherwise."

The 2020 season will not now start until June 7 in Azerbaijan, at the very earliest. Gasly is spending his unexpected down time with his physical trainer in the UAE.

He is desperate to get behind the wheel of his AlphaTauri car after he was unceremoniously dumped by sister team Red Bull in the middle of the 2019 season.

However, he at least had the last laugh, taking a first career podium in Brazil behind race winner and former Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.Gasly eventually finished the campaign a credible seventh in the world championship.

Gallery from postponed Australian Grand Prix

"We have a plan for the next few weeks and we're doing even more than usual," he said. "I have never had, over the past 10 years, two months ahead of me before the season resumes to prepare physically.

"I already felt largely ready, we had worked really well during the winter, but to add another two months of preparation, it's an opportunity to be even stronger physically when the season starts."

That strength and stamina will prove useful in August when it's possible that some of the postponed races will be shoe-horned breathlessly into successive weekends.

F1's sporting director Ross Brawn said last week he was optimistic of still having a "17, 18-race championship or more".

"One thing we have been talking about is two-day weekends, and therefore if we have a triple header with two-day weekends, that could be an option," he said.

Gasly said it would be challenging to race three weekends in a row. It has happened before, in 2018, although many teams were far from enthusiastic, complaining about the fatigue suffered by staff.

"It's exhausting as you lose between two and three kilos per race and then you have the flights," said Gasly. "There is an intensity during a race weekend – from morning to evening, it never stops.

"But if we have three or four races in a row, it is up to us to prepare in the best condition, pay even more attention to recovery and to be at 100 per cent capacity each time."

However, Gasly insisted that taking part in F1's virtual reality races, announced on Friday, was not an option to prepare for the real thing.

"In Dubai, we don't have a 'sim' [simulator], just a PlayStation, so I play games other than F1," said  Gasly.

"There'll be a time when I go back to Europe and go back into the simulator at the factory, which is closer to what reality is. This is where we learn the most as a driver."