Alfa Romeo believe qualifying is the area where Zhou Guanyu needs to make most improvement as he settles into his Formula 1 career.
Zhou, the first Chinese racer in F1, is the only rookie on this year’s grid and made an excellent start as he scored a point on his debut in Bahrain.
Since then, he has failed to add to that initial score with reality having kicked in somewhat, although his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, also in his first season with the Swiss-based squad, has lifted his points total to a highly commendable 30.
The Finn’s vast experience is clearly playing a part. But while Alfa Romeo as a team have not been putting together the cleanest set of race weekends, they have spotted when Zhou has to start making gains to develop his all-round performance – and that’s on a Saturday.
The most recent grand prix, in Miami, was the ideal example as Bottas qualified a superb fifth whereas Zhou was down in 17th. The 22-year-old’s race ended on lap seven, just after he had passed Daniel Ricciardo, with the driver saying over team radio: “I can’t believe it.”
— 周冠宇 | Zhou Guanyu 🇨🇳 (@ZhouGuanyu24) May 9, 2022
“We had a water leak after lap one,” confirmed Alfa Romeo’s chief engineer, Xevi Pujolar, quoted by Motorsport-total.com.
“We tried a few things but it was not possible to recover from it. We had to stop the car or we would have damaged the engine.”
With that pass on Ricciardo, Zhou was showing his impressive race-craft – it was, according to Pujolar, just unfortunate he had started the race so far back.
“I think the only problem is qualifying,” said the 49-year-old Spaniard. “Everything didn’t go smoothly in Q1 and we lost the potential to get through. He had the potential to at least reach Q2, he knows that.
“But in the race, he fought with everyone – his fighting skills are really good. We are pretty sure he would have finished in the points in Miami if we hadn’t had to stop the car.
“In every race, when he fights with someone, he overtakes the other guy. He’s not someone who takes 15 laps to overtake. He sees the chance and overtakes.”
Like most teams, Alfa Romeo are in the process of bringing upgrades to their car, which has proven to be a big improvement comparatively to last year – and Pujolar, who hails from Catalunya, is optimistic his home race next week will be a strong one for the team.
“I think in Barcelona, with the updates, we will have two strong candidates for points,” he said.