Come next year, 22-year-old Zhou Guanyu will be Formula One (F1)’s first Chinese driver after signing with Alfa Romeo. Zhou replaces Italian Antonio Giovinazzi and will partner Valtteri Bottas, who is set to leave Mercedes and former race partner Lewis Hamilton.
The addition of Zhou concludes the fleet of drivers that are competing in the 2022 grid.
Currently holding on to second place in the Formula Two championship, Zhou is 36 points behind Oscar Piastri with two more rounds to go next month in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Zhou is also the test driver for the Renault-owned Alpine F1 team for this season and has been doing so for the past two years. He first joined the French company in 2019 and was part of the Ferrari driver academy between 2014 to 2018.
Coming over from Alpine, Zhou brings along with him substantial financial backing to Alfa Romeo. The commercial Chinese sponsors that are supporting Zhou is one of the reasons the British company signed him.
In an article by the BBC, team principal Frederic Vasseur admitted that the “extra income Zhou brings to Alfa Romeo would mean that the team would be able to operate at F1’s cost cap next season”. While the bigger teams have no issue with the new budget cap, smaller teams like Alfa Romeo are aiming to attract more funding to hit the limit and compete on equal terms.
But more than the financial opportunities, the team values Zhou’s more than anything. Vasseur cited the young driver’s recent F2 victories in Bahrain and Silverstone this year as evidence of Zhou’s potential to compete at the highest level.
“I don’t know if in the end he will be a champion or not in F2,” Vasseur said. “But this won’t change the potential that he is a frontrunner against some other very experienced guys.”
In a statement put out by Alfa Romeo, the carmaker described Zhou as “a trailblazer who will write a pivotal page of his country’s motor sport history”.
“I dreamt from a young age of climbing as high as I can in a sport that I am passionate about and now the dream has come true,” said Zhou in regards to his new appointment.
“To be the first ever Chinese driver in Formula One is a breakthrough for Chinese motor sport history. I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more.”
Zhou’s new role in Alfa Romeo comes just a few weeks after F1 confirmed that the Chinese Grand Prix will be back on the calendar in 2023 after a three-season hiatus due to the pandemic. The huge commercial opportunity that China can bring to the table makes it a hot market for the sport to take off. As a result, the organisation is determined to expand its growth in China as the country has a potentially huge market to be explored.
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