Valtteri Bottas v Guanyu Zhou: Experience crushes the rookie at Alfa Romeo

Michelle Foster
Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou. Abu Dhabi 2022

Alfa Romeo drivers Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou. Abu Dhabi 2022

Qualifying: 14-8
Races both finished: 9-2
Points: 49-6

That Valtteri Bottas, with nine top-ten results, only beat Zhou Guanyu nine times in races they both finished speaks more to Alfa Romeo’s wretched reliability than his dominance over Zhou.

And dominance is what is was, although that’s to be expected given Bottas spent the past five years with Mercedes before joining Alfa Romeo and Zhou was a rookie fresh out of Formula 2.

2022 was a season in which both team-mates had to readjust their goals as they went from winning races in 2021 to fighting for points this season. But points is what they managed, at least at the beginning and end of the season, enough to ensure Alfa Romeo held off Aston Martin for P6.

Scoring on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Chinese driver Zhou silenced his critics that were billing him as a pay driver (including the driver he replaced, Antonio Giovinazzi). But it was a celebration that was short-lived as the first nine races of his season included a barrage of retirements, three in total, and they were all car or engine related.

While he struggled to score points, Bottas seemingly slipped easily into his new team and bagged seven top-ten results in those first nine races, the Finn making the most of Alfa Romeo’s on-point although unreliable C43.

But as their rivals began to develop their cars, Alfa – holding back on upgrading – started to lose ground. It was a dismal mid-season for the Hinwil team as Bottas racked up four retirements in six races from Silverstone to the Netherlands, and was point-less in the others.

Zhou wasn’t faring any better with two retirements in six races. He finally broke the team’s point-less run with a P10 in Italy only to record back-to-back DNFs immediately after. It was one of two Sundays, the other being Abu Dhabi, in which he beat Bottas in a race in which both drivers saw the chequered flag.

While rivals were out of updates, partly because they were out of money, Alfa Romeo went onto introduce a new floor late in the season at the United States Grand Prix. It proved to be a key upgrade, although Bottas couldn’t capitalise as he spun off while Zhou was P12. The Finn, though, followed that up with points in Mexico and again in Brazil to put ensure Alfa Romeo beat Aston Martin to sixth place in the championship, bagging an extra 10 million bucks in the process.

It was a solid start to the season for Alfa Romeo and an okay ending, but it was a case of what could have been had the team maintained their early season momentum. That’s something they have to work on in 2023 when Bottas will again partner Zhou.

Although he scored just six points to Bottas’ 49 there was very little that Zhou did wrong in his debut campaign. He didn’t have the pace of Bottas, not over a single lap nor a grand prix, but for a rookie he also didn’t create much of a crash damage bill, even his horrific Silverstone crash that wrecked his car wasn’t his fault.

As such Alfa Romeo team boss Fred Vasseur decided to stick with Zhou instead of promoting his protégé Theo Pourchaire, a huge nod of approval for the Chinese driver.

On Bottas’ side, 2022 was the first season he had ever lined up on the grid knowing from the very first chequered flag he’d still be around the next season. Formula 1 saw a calmer more relaxed Bottas, one that is probably dreaming of the Audi link up to come.

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