Alfa Romeo rookie Guanyu Zhou has explained his choice of race number in Formula 1 was inspired by the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant.
The five-time NBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist was widely regarded as one of the all-time greats of basketball, and he famously wore the number 24 for Los Angeles Lakers in the second half of his career. Now, Formula 1 newcomer Zhou will take on that number in his honour.
Bryant and his daughter Gianna both tragically passed away when passengers in a helicopter crash in early 2020, and the sporting world at large mourned one of basketball’s best ever players.
Zhou will become China’s first ever full-time Formula 1 driver when the 2022 season starts, and has spoken of his adoration of Bryant when discussing how big a basketball fan he is.
The new Alfa Romeo man said ‘Black Mamba’ set an example with how hard he was willing to work to achieve his goals in his field, and added there is also a coincidence regarding a lucky number from his homeland.
“Kobe Bryant was a big inspiration to me when I was more interested in basketball than motorsports,” said the Chinese driver, quoted by Speedweek.
“What impressed me most was his work ethic. Even though he was considered the best player of his era, he worked tirelessly on himself.
“He would get up at four in the morning, start training, then take his kids to school and keep training.
“Also, 24 is four times six, and six is a lucky number in my country.”
The race number six is unavailable, however, with Williams driver Nicholas Latifi running it after 2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg vacated the number following his retirement.
Elsewhere on the grid, there had been a rumour Charles Leclerc is hoping to switch to race with number seven on his car now Kimi Raikkonen has left the sport, but this is not allowed.
FIA regulations introduced when drivers were allowed to choose their own numbers state: “Prior to the start of the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship, race numbers will be permanently allocated to drivers by ballot. Such numbers must then be used by that driver during every Formula One World Championship Event he takes part in throughout his career in Formula 1.”
The number seven will only become available again in 2024 once Raikkonen has been out of the sport for two full years.
The only number change currently allowed is the option for the reigning World Champion to switch to race with the number one the following year – which Max Verstappen has taken up.
Zhou makes historic move to F1
Guanyu Zhou makes F1 history, signing for Alfa Romeo and becoming China's first full-time F1 driver.