Zhou drives on path to breakthrough in Chinese Formula 1 – Sports

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Published on February 25, 2022 08:27

Zhou Guanyu made his first official outing in the final laps of his journey to becoming a Formula 1 driver

MONTMEL (AFP) – Zhou Guanyu made his first official outing on Thursday, in the final laps of his long journey to become the first Chinese Formula 1 driver.

After sitting out on the first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, ​​Zhou completed 71 laps in his Alfa Romeo on day two.

At 22, Zhou will take that step on March 20 at the season opener of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Zhou spoke to AFP about the difficulties encountered by Chinese drivers who want to enter Formula 1.

“It was always a dream more than a goal, because it was too far,” Zhou said.

“In China you can be a good Chinese driver, but if you can’t compete or beat European drivers you’re not going to go to Formula 1.”

The HRT team planned to make Ma Qing Hua one of its riders in 2013, but folded before the season.

“It’s super difficult for us to move outside to Europe first…as a very small child,” Zhou said.

“At eight years old, I started racing, in a go-kart,” he said. “I spent three or four years racing at home. Then when you’ve won pretty much every class at home, the only way to advance is to move to Europe.”

At 12, he moved to Sheffield in the north of England to join a karting team and still speaks English with a hint of a Yorkshire accent.

“Europe or the UK is more like the home of motorsport,” he said.

In 2019, Zhou joined the young driver pipeline of French manufacturer Renault (now Alpine).

China is a major growth market for F1, but any sport trying to break into the world’s second-largest economy needs a national star.

The man he replaces, Antonio Giovinazzi, has hinted on social media that the decision to promote Zhou was financially motivated.

“F1 is about emotion, talent, cars, risk, speed. But when money rules it can be ruthless,” the Italian tweeted in November.

Zhou said he showed talent.

“It doesn’t really make a difference between the country you’re from,” said Zhou, third in the Formula 2 championship last year. “What I had to do was finish in the top three.”

“To be a Formula 1 driver, you have to do well, show your potential in all categories.”

He added that luck played a role.

“Places are so limited. So you really have to have the right timing to be in Formula 1, it’s not that easy,” he said.


“Get Points”


Zhou said Formula 1 is doing very well without him.

“F1 has already grown in recent years without me,” he said. “But coming in, of course, was a huge step forward.”

He credited his promotion with playing well at home, where he has a devoted fan base.

“Some fans, I know their names roughly, their social names. They followed me in F3 or F4, so that was six or seven years ago,” he said.

“Of course there are a huge number of new fans involved since I signed an F1 contract. I think there will be a lot of people watching the races at home this season.

While the Grand Prix in his native Shanghai was again canceled this year, Formula 1 extended the contract until 2025.

Zhou, who as a child competed in the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in 2004, is looking forward to racing his home race.

“The atmosphere will be amazing,” he said. “I never really raced at home, I raced in Europe all the time.”

Last season Alfa Romeo picked up just three points but added Valtteri Bottas, who scored 226 as he finished third for Mercedes, along with Zhou.

“My goal for the season will be to get points,” Zhou said. “It will be great. Also to do well in qualifying. But it all depends on how we do as a team.”

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