Alfa Romeo sign 'trailblazer' Guanyu Zhou, China's first F1 driver

·3-min read

Guanyu Zhou will become China's first ever Formula One driver after Alfa Romeo announced on Tuesday the 22-year-old would drive for the team next season.

Zhou has been making waves in Formula Two and replaces Antonio Giovinazzi alongside Valtteri Bottas, who is moving from Mercedes to replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen.

"To be the first ever Chinese driver in Formula 1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history," said Zhou.

"I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more."

Alfa Romeo described their new signing as "a trailblazer who will write a pivotal page of his country’s motorsport history".

F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali said the arrival of the first driver from China was "fantastic".

"The news Guanyu Zhou will be in F1 next season is fantastic for the sport and the millions of passionate Chinese fans that now have a home hero to cheer all year long," he tweeted.

The country of 1.4 billion which hosted its first grand prix in Zhou's home city of Shanghai in 2004 represents a huge market for F1 and constructors like Alfa Romeo.

The Covid-19 pandemic put paid to the Chinese Grand Prix in 2020 and this year with the race returning to the calendar in 2022 when there is no doubt who the locals will be rooting for.

Zhou has already had a taste in motorsport's fast lane as a test driver for the F1 Alpine team in 2020/21 and took part in his first free practice session at this year's Austrian Grand Prix.

- 'Dream come true' -

"I dreamt from a young age of climbing as high as I can in a sport that I am passionate about and now the dream has come true," Alfa Romeo quoted Zhou, who was educated in Britain, as saying.

"It is a privilege for me to start my Formula 1 racing career with an iconic team, a team that has introduced so much young talent into Formula 1 in the past. Now the dream is reality."

Zhou has enjoyed a breakthrough year in F2, and is lying second and challenging for the title with races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi to come.

His journey to F1 began in 2012 when he arrived in England to compete on the karting circuit.

In 2019 He was named best rookie in F2, coming in seventh. Last year he finished sixth after claiming his debut win.

This term he has 36 points to make up on title leader Oscar Piastri as the season reaches its conclusion.

Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur said he believed Zhou would establish "a very successful partnership with Valtteri.

"I know both of them well and I’m totally convinced the combination will work well."

As well as the arrival of "a very talented driver" Vasseur welcomed "all the new Chinese fans who will join the team".

Zhou's promotion came as Alfa Romeo announced that Giovinazzi would leave at the end of the 2021 championship in December.

Vasseur later told F1.com that Zhou "has everything to be successful in Formula One" and while it had been a tough call to ditch Italian driver Giovinazzi the timing was right with new regulations coming in next season.

"Saying goodbye to a driver is never easy, especially so in the case of Antonio, who has been part of the team for so long," said Vasseur.

In three seasons with the Swiss-based team Giovinazzi's best finish is fifth place in the 2019 Brazil Grand Prix.

He has one point to his name this term with three races to come.

Raikkonen is on 10 points to leave the Swiss-based team ninth in the constructors' championship, ahead of Haas who have not scored a single point.

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