Initially signed as a ‘stopgap’ before Theo Pourchaire was ready for F1, Zhou Guanyu’s form has given Alfa Romeo the ‘luxury problem’ of having three drivers but only two race seats for 2023.
Zhou made his way onto the grid this season as Valtteri Bottas’ team-mate, boosted by both his Chinese sponsorship and also that team boss Fred Vassuer felt Sauber protégé Pourchaire was not yet ready for Formula 1, the Frenchman wanting him to have a second season in Formula 2.
Zhou repaid Alfa Romeo’s faith in him at the opening race of the season, scoring a point on his debut in Bahrain. However, a seven-race point-less streak followed before he broke that with P8 at the Canadian Grand Prix.
Although he has only scored five points to Bottas’ 46, Alfa Romeo are impressed with the rookie.
“Normally, with rookies you always have to reckon with one or the other crash. But Zhou makes practically no mistakes,” team manager Beat Zehnder told Auto Motor und Sport.
“Experience shows there has to be a crash at some point,” he added. “But that’s also part of the learning process.”
Zehnder was full of praise for the 23-year-old, saying he is “definitely one of the best rookies we’ve ever had in our team”, which is high praise given Zehnder also worked with Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc.
That, though, has given Alfa Romeo a ‘luxury problem’ as AMuS put it, or a headache as others might see it.
Tobias Grüner wrote: “At Alfa Romeo, the course for the future had actually been set before the current season. Valtteri Bottas signed a long-term contract with the team in September 2021. Shortly before the end of the season, the Chinese Guanyu Zhou was signed on as second driver for a year.
“The rookie should play the role of a stopgap for a transitional season as the man for the future is actually called Theo Pourchaire, the Sauber junior considered ‘one of the greatest talents on the scene’.”
But with Zhou doing just about everything right and Pourchaire, although second in the Formula 2 standings, having absolutely no F1 experience, Alfa Romeo face a tough decision.
“The question now is whether you want to throw Zhou right back out the door after a strong year of training,” continued Grüner. “In the end, the pendulum could also swing in the direction of the Chinese because Pourchaire has not yet made the convincing impression in Formula 2 those responsible had hoped for.”
The upside for Alfa Romeo is the team are in no hurry to make a decision. They can wait to see how both drivers develop as their seasons continue.
“With the great potential of the two candidates for the second cockpit in 2023, the Alfa Romeo team management will certainly not make any hasty decisions,” read the AMuS report.
“Vasseur still wants to see whether the positive development of his two youngsters will continue in the second half of the season.
“In the end, however, it will certainly not be an easy choice.”
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