Zhou Guanyu found a second push lap was bringing him more pace in Austria qualifying, but he exited in Q1 after straying from that approach.
Back in the car after thankfully escaping his horrifying Silverstone crash unscathed, Zhou, alongside the other 19 drivers, was straight into the thick of the action in Formula 1’s second sprint qualifying weekend of the season.
His traditional qualifying session went no further than Q1 though, Alfa Romeo taking the risk of a one-lap push, whereas in the earlier stages of the session Zhou had discovered more pace was available if he went for two.
“It was quite frustrating from my side because with a short track like this, the tyres were actually working on lap two much better,” he told reporters after the session.
“So my first stint I was improving by like six tenths in lap two, so last run we planned to just stick with one lap. It was a bit risky and that’s why, even though I improved the lap time a tiny bit, no grip on our tyres so that put us out of Q1.”
Alfa Romeo swapped Zhou’s chassis after the crash last weekend at Silverstone, so with only one practice session to fine-tune it before Austria qualifying instead of three, Zhou admitted this added an extra layer of difficulty.
Nonetheless, there were no issues to report.
“It’s not the same,” he said of the single practice session pre-qualifying. “Because the whole car is built new and just having one session this morning to get ready, to make sure everything is working, is not the easiest thing,
“But everything seems to be working fine – just lack a little bit of performance today.”
Zhou is preparing to start the sprint from P18, but in an Alfa Romeo C42 which seems to fare better in race trim, a pair of ‘races’ can be seen as a real opportunity for the team, with the sprint qualifying results determining the grid for the Austrian Grand Prix.
The Chinese racer did not complete the opening lap of his first sprint experience at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, contact with Pierre Gasly sealing a swift retirement, so this time around he hopes for a better experience – one that could potentially set him up for points on Sunday.
The top eight score points in the sprint under the 2022 rules before the normal system comes into play for the race.
“It’s my second time experiencing this, the last time I didn’t get to do the sprint race,” he said.
“So hopefully we have a good one tomorrow and it puts us a little bit up for a better Sunday for the points.
“I think everything is possible, but we have to just figure out what went wrong in that [Q1] session and improve from now on.”
Valtteri Bottas will start P12 in the other Alfa Romeo. He explained the C42 did not feel particularly bad in qualifying, it was just a case of the midfield pack being so tight around the fastest lap on the calendar.
Nonetheless, he is hopeful of a strong weekend from here in the race-friendly Alfa Romeo challenger, although he will serve an engine penalty for the grand prix and is due to start at the back of the grid.
“Actually the feeling is not too bad, just it’s so close,” he said. “Didn’t really have big balance issues but I guess a general lack of grip is the main issue with the lap time.
“But extremely close and had some good laps, so at least I’m pleased with the laps, but not so pleased with the single-lap pace we had.
“Still, as always, it seems like we have a good race car, so obviously there are still some points possible tomorrow and of course on Sunday as well, so we will start to focus for that.”
All hail the Halo after Zhou crash
Without the Halo on his car, Zhou Guanyu's crash could well have had tragic consequences.