The story of Guanyu Zhou – Pandaily

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About 15 years ago, I made a bet with a college friend: “Which event will come first, China’s first goal in the World Cup, or the first paying position of a Chinese race in Formula 1“. The mystery was solved on March 20. Guanyu Zhou, China’s first-ever full-time F1 driver, finished his debut in 10th place, picking up a point.

Zhou showed great confidence and an eagerness to finish with points. He impressed the public and cast doubts by reaching second qualifying to start 15th on the grid. Although he lost time at one point as he had to adjust the settings of his vehicle, he quickly proved that Alfa Romeo had made the right decision to sign him through a series of passings, in particular his passing of Lewis Hamilton, seven times world champion. champion. “I can’t believe I just witnessed a Chinese runner pass on Hamilton,” read a hot Weibo post.

Last November, Alfa Romeo announced its controversial signing of Zhou. After Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 world champion, who retired last year, Alfa Romeo is upping its game. The team signed two-time championship runner-up Valtteri Bottas first as the number one pick and then focused on the second seat contender – mostly a binary option between Antonio Giovinazzi and Guanyu Zhou. Giovinazzi has worked with the team for the past three seasons. For the sake of consistency, the Swiss team favored Giovinazzi at first and gave him some extra time to prove he deserved a new contract. Unfortunately, his performance was not strong enough to convince the team, and Alfa Romeo eventually chose Zhou.

Zhou’s skeptics claimed the decision was made because of potential business benefits, rather than competitive considerations. F1 began its exploration of the Chinese market in 2004, when the Chinese Grand Prix was first held at the Shanghai International Circuit, currently the most expensive Formula 1 circuit. Over the past 18 years, Shanghai has had many historic moments. Michael Schumacher won his last Grand Prix here in 2006 and the Formula 1 World Championship celebrated its 1,000th round in 2019. Although the Chinese Grand Prix has been canceled or unscheduled since 2020 due to the pandemic, the contract between Formula 1 and China has always been extended for three years until 2025. F1 has never hidden its ambitions to expand its influence in China, and no one can deny that the arrival of Zhou in F1 would certainly help promote the sport in its home market, naturally benefiting both Alfa Romeo and F1 financially. national sponsors. Insiders mentioned that Chinese companies have shown growing interest in Zhou over the past 18 months.

The whole sport has long been waiting for a native Chinese rider. Even though the sport has garnered a strong fanbase through generations of legends and years of racing, it needs a local superstar to help it achieve a higher level of popularity. The closest attempt before Zhou was Qinghua Ma. He was added to the HRT F1 driver development program in 2012. A year later, he received a full-time contract from HRT and was due to compete in F1 the following season. However, HRT collapsed just a week after the announcement. Ma soon moved to Caterham and competed in Free Practice 1 (FP1) of the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix, but his performance ended outside the benchmark time of 107% for the fastest driver, thus extinguishing his dreams of F1.

In the case of Ma, there were rumors that the team signed Ma just to attract higher quotes to sell the team, as Ma represented a large, wide and underdeveloped market, but his performance proved that he was not ready to compete in F1 at that time. Zhou’s case is different. Compared to Ma, Zhou has matured through a streamlined and structured training system to prepare. He joined the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2014 and joined Renault/Alpine five years later. Zhou gradually improved his racing art and calm head throughout the journey and delivered a very promising and impressive performance during his F2 seasons, which gave him new opportunities to drive his Fernando model car. Alonso in FP1 at the 2021 Australian Grand Prix and wider interests from several F1 teams.

SEE ALSO: Chinese F1 hopeful Zhou Guanyu takes first 2021 Formula 2 victory in Bahrain

Admittedly, it is not guaranteed that Zhou can transfer his success in F2 to F1. It was always a risky decision for a team to change its two rosters for the season and choose someone who had no official F1 racing experience. Even two weeks earlier, some online analysts speculated that Zhou might lose his spot. Zhou himself was aware of such comments. In his post-race interview he said: “Everyone knows what happened when I signed – there were people making different noises.” He also admitted his winning debut took a huge amount of pressure off his shoulders. However, Zhou must keep in mind that this is only the first leg of his long journey. F1 is a highly competitive sport and the places are not reserved for anyone. From now on, it must be questioned all the time: up or out.

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