The first Chinese driver to make it into Formula 1, Zhou Guanyu was determined to prove to the world that China is not “just good at ping pong”.
Making his way through motor racing’s junior leaguers, Zhou stood alone as the only Chinese driver on the grid in the European Formula 3 series, that continuing into his Formula 2 days.
The driver, though, was determined to cut his own path through into the big league, Formula 1.
Finishing third in last year’s Formula 2 championship, he was the only one of the juniors to earn a promotion to F1, signing with Alfa Romeo as Valtteri Bottas’ 2022 team-mate.
Zhou or Pourchaire for Alfa Romeo next year?
Alfa Romeo have a decision to make about whether to stick with Zhou Guanyu, or promote Theo Pourchaire from their academy.
But entering Formula 1 was about more than just showing that he can compete against the best, Zhou determined to show not only the world, but also his compatriots, that it is possible for a Chinese driver to make it all the way to the top.
“Obviously you have a lot of pressure but there is a lot of support too,” he told inews.
“[I want to] get more people in China interested in motorsport, and I’ve seen a clear trend of people doing racing themselves back home.
“To be that person representing them in the best category in the whole of racing is amazing.
“Even back home people would say it’s impossible for us to have a driver in F1 because we’re starting so far behind.
“Drivers have tried going to Europe before but haven’t been good enough, but I’ve always believed in myself.
“I had the potential, so why not be the first one?
“It’s me trying to tell the world and everyone at home that we can do what everyone else does, that we’re not just good at ping pong. We can have this breakthrough.”
But how long will Zhou Guanyu last in Formula 1?
Zhou has yet to learn whether or not his Formula 1 career will be longer than a single season, the 23-year-old having signed a one-year contract with an option for 2023.
He’s in a fight against Theo Pourchaire, the long-time Sauber junior driver who recently declared that this season would be his last in Formula 2.
“This is my last season in FIA F2 for sure,” he told France Racing. “I won’t do another season. Two seasons in a championship is enough for a driver.”
But while Pourchaire’s announcement has upped the pressure on Zhou to add to his five points when the F1 season resumes in Spa, it does seem – at least from their comments – that Alfa Romeo are very happy with the driver.
Alfa Romeo’s head of trackside engineering Xevi Pujolar said back in June that if the driver can continue his upward trend, he’s “got a great future in F1” while team boss Fred Vasseur says the driver is “ticking all the right boxes”. He did, however, add that the team needs Zhou to start score more often having only twice finished inside the top ten.
Should Zhou do just that, Alfa Romeo would be hard pressed to drop him from the second race seat.
As such it is thought the team will continue with the Chinese driver, teenager Pourchaire taking a reserve role for a season.