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  • F: Nine Things You Need To Know About China’S Zhou Guanyu

F1: Nine things you need to know about China’s Zhou Guanyu

With the Chinese Grand Prix taking place on Sunday, F1 driver Zhou Guanyu will be excited to drive in his home country for the first time at the highest level of motorsport.

Zhou debuted for Alfa Romeo Sauber in 2022 and has driven for them ever since, despite the team being renamed Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber due to new title sponsors.

Zhou has only had Valterri Bottas as his team-mate throughout his time in F1 after the Finnish F1 driver was replaced by George Russell at Mercedes.

With 12 points and 48 Grands Prix entered so far, the Chinese driver has had a relatively unknown two seasons in F1 so far since he is driving for a backmarker team, meaning he doesn’t get much media attention.

Despite this Zhou is still an interesting character in the paddock with his fashion skills and cool helmet designs, as well as being a talented racing driver.

Here, Planet Sport’s Ayla Vaughan picks out nine things you need to know about the first Chinese driver on the F1 grid.

The first Chinese F1 driver

Zhou currently races for Kick Sauber ever since his debut in 2022 with the Swiss team alongside Bottas. He scored a point on his debut in Bahrain by finishing 10th. 

He didn’t expect to place within the points in his first ever F1 race, proving that he deserves to be on the grid. In his first year, he finished 18th in the drivers’ championship and sixth in the constructors’ championship. 

He only managed to score points in three races, which were Bahrain, Canada and Monza.  

In his second year as a F1 driver, he finished 18th in the drivers’ championship again and ninth in the constructors’ championship in 2023. He scored points in three different races compared to last year, and they were Australia, Spain and Qatar. 

Zhou showed promise in Hungary with his highest qualifying position of fifth, but he “was slow off the start line and was then involved in a first-corner collision for which he received a time penalty”, according to Wikipedia.

Throughout his first two years in F1, he suffered many retirements due to a variety of issues with the car (such as hydraulics and mechanical problems) as well as a couple of crashes. He had five retirements in 2022 and three retirements in 2023 due to these aforementioned difficulties. Qualifying also seemed to become an area of improvement for him as he often struggled to get out of the first stage in qualifying. 

The most notable of these was his crash at the British Grand Prix in 2022 as his car flipped upside down and skidded along the track and gravel, eventually ending up bouncing over the barriers into the catch fence as shown in this YouTube video.

Despite these poor results, he became “his country’s first-ever F1 racer – achieving a feat that Ma Qinghua, the only other Chinese driver to take part in a Formula 1 weekend, never managed”, according to his biography from Formula 1

His first F1 Grand Prix and childhood idol Fernando Alonso

Zhou attended Shanghai’s inaugural Grand Prix in 2004 when he was just five years old, where Ruben Barichello won for Ferrari. At the time he cheered on his hero Fernando Alonso, whom he now races against in F1. 

He is still a big fan of Alonso and is honoured to race alongside him. He considers him a good friend as they “sometimes have some fun together off-track” according to Formula 1

In the same article, when asked which three F1 personalities past or present he would invite to a dinner party, he replied “Oh. Oscar [Piastri], Fernando [Alonso] and Valtteri [Bottas]!”. 

Furthermore, when asked who would be part of his all-time F1 dream team, he answered “so that’s two drivers and a team boss...If I’m running it I’d probably put Fernando there. It might sound a bit boring but I’d probably put Oscar there. I don’t want two world champions in my team, I want one who’s a rising star and one who’s a world champion,” according to the same article.

Check out Planet Sport Bet’s markets for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Zhou’s time in karting

Zhou started karting when he was eight years old in China, but he moved to Sheffield in 2012 with his family to enter more competitive racing categories to enable him the best chance to become a F1 driver. 

In 2013, he won both the Super 1 National Rotax Max Junior Championship and Rotax Max Euro Challenge, having a very successful year in junior karting. 

In 2014, “Zhou finished 2nd in the Rotax Max Senior Euro Challenge and participated in selected rounds of WSK Champions Cup and the KF2 European Championship. He also made his first and only appearance in the Karting World Championship, driving for Ricky Flynn Motorsport alongside Lando Norris and Jehan Daruvala,” according to Wikipedia

His achievements in his senior year in karting (driving for the local Strawberry Racing) prepared him for the step up to single seaters the following year.

The jump up to Formula 4

Zhou joined Prema for the 2015 Italian F4 Championship since at the time he was a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy (who often drive for the Italian team in junior categories). 

He was vice-champion and best rookie by finishing behind Ralf Aron. He won all three races in round two at Monza and consistently finished on the podium, making him a title contender. 

He achieved nine podiums out of 21 races and was in the points in all but three races (and one retirement), showing he had a highly successful debut season in single seater racing. 

Zhou also competed in the first three rounds of the German ADAC F4 Championship, where he managed to achieve two podium finishes in Austria and Belgium. 

He was 15th in the drivers’ championship, scoring better than some drivers who competed in every race of the championship. He had a much more mixed performance with retirements, points finishes, podiums and non-points finishes in nine races.

Zhou’s three years in Formula 3

Zhou moved up to Formula 3 in 2016, having had only one season in F4 before jumping up to the next racing category. He had a successful beginning half of the season, but struggled to find pace during the later half of the season, finishing 13th in the drivers’ championship. 

He achieved two podiums and had another mixed year with three retirements, points finishes and non-points finishes in 30 races. 

He raced alongside many current and former F1 drivers such as Lance Stroll, Russell and Nikita Mazepin.

“Zhou stayed for a second F3 season by rejoining Prema and improved to 8th in standings with 5 podium finishes,” according to Wikipedia

He said “I am really honoured to join the Prema family! I enjoyed working with them in 2015 and I am looking forward to work with them again next year," according to Motorsport

Similar to his first year in F3, he had four retirements, points finishes and non-points finishes in 30 races, but he improved with more points finishes than last year.

In 2018, Zhou remained with Prema for a third F3 season, showing the Italian team had faith in him as a young driver. He finished eighth in the standings again, but had much more success than the previous year. He would get his first win in F3 at the first round in France and another in the last race of the season in Germany. 

He achieved six podiums, three retirements, points finishes and non-points finishes in 30 races. 

He improved by getting his maiden win and more podiums than the previous year, which meant he would likely move up to F2 the following year.

The step up to F2

In 2019, Zhou made the move to Formula 2 and would race for UNI-Virtuosi Racing alongside  Luca Ghiotto. In 22 races he achieved one pole (at Silverstone) and five podiums, ending up seventh in the drivers’ championship. 

He was subsequently awarded the Anthoine Hubert Award for being the highest-finishing rookie, becoming the first recipient after the French racer’s death that year racing at Spa. 

“He got his maiden feature race podium in Barcelona after a strong qualifying and leading most of the race before dropping to third due to tyre degradation,” according to Wikipedia

He had a very strong rookie season and kept on improving each year as he finished in the points in all-but two races as well as a further two retirements.

Zhou remained at UNI-Virtuosi in 2020, but had a new team-mate Callum Ilott. In 24 races he achieved one pole (at the Red Bull Ring) and six podiums, ending up sixth in the drivers’ championship. 

Zhou won his first F2 sprint race in Russia, showing yet another improvement since he got his maiden win in his second season of F2 compared to getting his maiden win in his third season of F3. 

However, his team-mate had a more successful season, finishing runner-up behind former F1 driver for Haas Mick Schumacher who won the championship that year.

In 2021, Zhou entered his third F2 season where he stayed with UNI-Virtuosi, but had another new team-mate Felipe Drugovich. In 22 races he achieved one pole (at Bahrain), four wins and nine podiums, ending up third in the drivers’ championship. He converted the pole to his first feature race win in F2 at the opening round at Bahrain. 

He had another mixed year with two retirements, points finishes and non-points finishes, but “he bounced back in the final round at Abu Dhabi, signing off his F2 career by winning the second sprint race and finishing second in the feature race,” according to Wikipedia

He raced alongside many current F1 drivers such as Oscar Piastri (the F2 champion of that year and his closest friend on the grid), Logan Sargeant and Liam Lawson. 

In all his years in F2 with UNI-Virtuosi, he would help them achieve second in the teams’ championship three times, showing his consistency at a high performing team. 

Alpine and Ferrari Academy

Zhou was a former member of the Renault (now named Alpine) Academy from 2019-21. In this role, he served as the test driver for the French team from 2020-21. Prior to that, he was a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy from 2014-18. 

“Zhou remained part of the rebranded Alpine Academy for 2021 and made his Formula One race weekend debut for Alpine F1 Team, driving the A521 during the first practice session of the Austrian Grand Prix,” according to Wikipedia

Having the backing of these two teams in his junior racing definitely helped him in his eventual debut in F1. Despite these affiliations, he ended up racing for Alfa Romeo Sauber in the end as they had a seat open after the retirement of Kimi Raikkonen.

Fun facts about Zhou

Zhou often shares tidbits from his personal life on social media, such as a new cat he got over the winter called Sweetcorn as shown in this Instagram post. She has her own Instagram account with adorable pictures of her and Zhou at his home. 

Zhou is also a big basketball fan as he chose 24 as his racing number to honour another sporting hero of his, Kobe Bryant (who wore the number whilst playing for Los Angeles Lakers where he won five championships) according to Motorsport Week

In the same article he said “I’m a huge fan of his, I’ve listened to his stories, how hard he was working even though he was one of the best out there”. He added “He’s a huge inspiration, so that’s the first reason behind it. That’s also the reason I’m very much into purple and a bit yellow, because of him. It is [also] quite a lucky number adding up together, six is quite lucky for Chinese people as well,” according to Motorsport Week

His exploration of fashion and helmet designs 

When asked to describe himself in three words Zhou replied “Firstly, F1 driver. Fashion. Lastly, I’d probably say the only one from China,” according to Formula 1

He has also said that he would have been a fashion designer if he wasn’t an F1 driver, demonstrating another passion of his.

Zhou has graced the cover of many fashion magazines, such as ELLE Men, Esquire and GQ SPORTS

He is often on the Chinese version of these magazines as he is a great symbol for Chinese athletes as the only F1 driver from China. He often wears clothes from Dior and has attended the DIOR Men Summer 2024 Show, showing his style and interest in the world of fashion.

The Shanghai-born driver uses the skyline of his home city on his racing helmet, which I personally think is one of the best helmets on the grid. He changed his helmet to have a black base this year, but still kept the cityscape as well as the yellow and purple on the back as shown in this Instagram post.

On races where he has a one-off helmet often based around the characteristics of the country he is racing in, he still produces beautiful helmets. 

Some of my favourites are his 2024 Chinese Grand Prix helmet, 2023 Japanese Grand Prix helmet, 2023 Singapore Grand Prix helmet, 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix helmet and 2022 Miami Grand Prix helmet. 

Zhou is not afraid to go bold and try different styles, whilst still keeping some signature elements such as his name in Chinese and his logo.

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