Initially signed as a stop-gap as Alfa Romeo waited for Theo Pourchaire, such has been Zhou Guanyu’s “surprise” form that Alfa Romeo team boss Fred Vasseur has retained him for a second season.
Zhou joined the Formula 1 grid this season and while it was never publicly said, it was widely speculated that he’d have one season with the team before Formula 2 driver Pourchaire replaced him.
The Sauber-backed junior was being billed as the team’s future but with Vasseur wanting to give the teenager a second season in F2 to mature as a driver.
It has instead been Zhou who has risen to the challenge.
F1’s first Chinese driver scored a point on his debut in Bahrain, and added five further points to his tally with an eighth place at the Canadian GP and P10 at Italy.
His season has been blighted by car troubles, both the C42 and its Ferrari power unit, suffering one issue after another while of late Alfa Romeo have fallen back in the midfield’s pecking order.
The points may not be following but the driver has impressed the team with team manager Beat Zehnder calling him “definitely one of the best rookies we’ve ever had in our team”.
That’s high praise given that Zehnder also worked with Kimi Raikkonen and Charles Leclerc.
“Normally, with rookies you always have to reckon with one or the other crash. But Zhou makes practically no mistakes,” he added to told Auto Motor und Sport.
Vasseur admits has been surprised by the 23-year-old’s performances.
Confirming Zhou’s second season with the team, he said: “I am looking forward to continuing working with Zhou.
“From day one with the team, at the Abu Dhabi test last year, he has impressed me with his approach to work and this is always a very positive trait.
“We knew he was quick, but the way he adapted to Formula One in such a short time has been one of the best surprises of our season.
“He is a very nice guy, everyone in the team likes both his personality and attitude.
“He has had the humility to ask questions and learn, from the engineers as well as Valtteri, and the intelligence to apply all the information he got to improve race after race.
“He will have this experience to draw on next season, and I am sure he will make another step forward as we continue to grow our team.”
Zhou will partner Valtteri Bottas for a second successive season.
What next for Pourchaire?
Zhou’s continuation with the team means there is no race seat for Pourchaire, the teenager expected to do an Oscar Piastri and sign on Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver with a possibility of a 2024 race seat.
While Pourchaire had a difficult season in Formula 2, more incidents than wins, he still went onto finish P2 but almost 80 points behind championship winner and new Aston Martin reserve driver Felipe Drugovich.
The Frenchman made it clear back in August that he would not continue in F2 for a third season.
“This is my last season in FIA F2 for sure,” he told France Racing. “I won’t do another season.
“Financially, it won’t be possible. It’s not a good solution. Two seasons in a championship is enough for a driver.
“If I don’t go to F1, I don’t know what I will do. We haven’t thought about that with my entourage. We will see. There may be several opportunities.”
Pourchaire is set to take part in an FP1 session for Alfa Romeo at some point this year, the driver still speaking with the team about what shape his future will take.