Driver laments ‘a lot of politics in Formula 1’ in heartfelt message

Michelle Foster
All 20 F1 drivers line up behind the Safety Car for the Belgian Grand Prix sprint race.

The 2023 Formula 1 grid.

Hounded by the pay driver tag as he stepped up into Formula 1 having only finished third in F2, Zhou Guanyu says it was “hard” hearing all the negative comments.

Racing for UNI-Virtuosi Racing in 2021, Zhou finished third in Formula 2 behind Oscar Piastri and Robert Shwartzman.

But while Piastri took a reserve driver role with Alpine for the 2022 season and Shwartzman a test driver role with Ferrari, it was Zhou who made a breakthrough into Formula 1 having been signed by Alfa Romeo.

Zhou Guanyu: It was impossible not to hear it

Almost immediately it was said that Zhou’s promotion was a financial decision from Alfa Romeo, something that was denied by then-team boss Fred Vasseur.

Initially denying reports of a 30 million Euro windfall, he later told the BBC that while the “financial side can’t be hidden”, he believed in the Chinese driver’s talent.

So much so that even when Zhou was said to be ousted after just one season, replaced by Sauber junior Theo Pourchaire, Alfa Romeo disproved that as they re-signed the driver who will have a third season with the Swiss team in 2024.

But despite proving himself to his Alfa Romeo bosses, Zhou says it was “hard” to hear the negative comments having worked so hard to make it into F1.

“That winter, in November of 2021, when Alfa Romeo announced I’d be in the seat, I knew what people thought of me. It was impossible not to hear it,” he told The Players Tribune.

“And it’s hard, right, because I worked my entire life for an opportunity like that. My family sacrificed a lot. We moved from China to Sheffield when I was 12. It took everything. Some luck, too.

“And then before I ever get a chance to race, [people are saying]: ‘He doesn’t deserve it, it should be so-and-so, he’s only there because of money.’

“I understand. People are allowed to have their opinions. And there’s a lot of politics in F1, of course. I know that just as well as anyone.

“From the outside, it’s hard to see everything that’s going on. And I’m beyond thankful to be where I am — it’s not lost on me what a privilege it is.

“But I’m still just a person, a guy with a phone who can hear the noise.” recommends

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Valtteri Bottas taught him how to handle pressure

Dealing with the immense pressure of Formula 1 and the criticism that is often dished out Zhou revealed his team-mate Valtteri Bottas had helped a lot in learning how to deal with that.

“I’ve learned that the pressure I felt, never goes away. And if it does, you’re probably doing something wrong. I’ve learned how to deal with it, how to harness it. I feel at home in F1 now, and though there’s been some highs and lows the past few years, I know that I’m improving,” he said.

“Valtteri has helped with a lot of that. He’s somebody who’s been at the top of the sport and he’s dealt with just about everything an F1 driver could imagine. He’s mega quick and he’s a great team-mate.

“I think, because we’re at different stages of our careers, there’s a level of camaraderie that has helped me a lot. We compete, of course, but he really wants me to be the best version of myself. He’s always there for me.

“We’ve struggled this year as a team, but I really believe in what we have in the garage and in the factory. There’s a great group of people here. There really is. I believe we can finish the year strong and head into next season with momentum.”

One thing Zhou is very much looking forward to next season is the Chinese Grand Prix with that having been off the calendar since 2020 due to Covid.

“I think of next year a lot because the Chinese Grand Prix is back on the schedule. It’s going to be so, so special. I can’t wait to see so many of the people who have helped me on this journey. My friends, family and team-mates,” he added.

“The fans who have picked me up when I’ve needed it. I just can’t wait. I know when I’m on track, I’ll have a moment where I look up into the stand where I used to sit, and I’ll remember the feeling of waving Fernando’s flag in the air as he raced by, his V10 screaming through my earplugs.

“That will be a moment I cherish forever.”

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