China could have their first Formula 1 driver next season if the Alfa Romeo team decides to bring in Italian Antonio Giovinazzi and take on rising star Guanyu Zhou who, along with Nyck de Vries, is one of the many pilots considered.
The Switzerland-based squad’s seat is the only one with lingering uncertainty, after Aston Martin confirmed an unchanged roster on Thursday and a handful of candidates want to fill it.
One of them is Chinese driver Zhou, currently second overall in Formula 2 and test driver for the Renault-owned Alpine F1 team. The 22-year-old is 15 points behind Oscar Piastri, also a member of the Alpine Academy.
Shanghai-born Zhou is considered a favorite, with substantial support from Chinese sponsors, a move that would also delight F1 commercial rights holders Liberty Media.
China is a key growth market for the sport, along with the United States, and first hosted a grand prix in Shanghai in 2004. However, no Chinese rider has come close to the starting grid by participating at the Friday practice.
Zhou did so with Alpine, who has no vacant position on her own team, in July while Ma Qing Hua took part in China Grand Prix training with the now-defunct Caterham in 2013.
Switzerland-based Alfa Romeo has so far only confirmed Valtteri Bottas, who is leaving champion Mercedes to replace compatriot Finnish Kimi Raikkonen as Giovinazzi’s future is uncertain.
Giovinazzi is supported by Ferrari, which supplies Alfa’s engines, and is the only Italian F1 driver.
However, the team are free to choose their drivers, however, and business considerations could come into play – with rumors that Zhou will attract tens of millions of dollars to a languishing ninth-in-ten private team.
Alfa Romeo team boss Fred Vasseur told reporters at last weekend’s Italian Grand Prix that Zhou was one of five or six names under consideration: “Zhou is doing a good job in F2; he is sure he is on the list.
“It’s not just because he’s Chinese, he’s a leader in F2. He won a few races and I think every F1 team is watching him. We will see in two or three events where we are, what is the evolution of each driver in F2 ”, declared the Frenchman.
Alfa Romeo also has to take into account rising Sauber academy star Theo Pourchaire, but the Frenchman has just turned 18 and lacks track time in F1 making him a more promising prospect for 2023. Sauber leads the team under the Alfa brand.
Mercedes wants to place Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, who won the F2 title in 2019, but the Dutch driver’s ties to the German manufacturer are a complication for a team closely linked to Ferrari.
“I think the situation with Mercedes is not easy,” said Vasseur. (Report by Alan Baldwin)