Zhou has three F2 wins this season and is runner-up in the championship with one l – to go
Guanyu Zhou becomes the first Chinese Formula 1 driver after signing for Alfa Romeo in 2022.
Alfa Romeo described the Formula 2 frontrunner as “a trailblazer who will write a decisive page in his country’s motorsport history”.
Zhou, 22, becomes a partner of Valtteri Bottas, signed by Mercedes after veteran Kimi Raikkonen decided to retire this year.
He replaces Antonio Giovinazzi, who has been driving for Alfa since 2019 but will not have a place on the F1 grid next year.
Zhou, who is second in the F2 Championship with three wins this season and two l -s to go in Saudi Arabia next month, said: “From a young age I dreamed of being in a sport I was passionate about have to climb as high as possible and now the dream has come true.
“I feel well prepared for the immense challenge of Formula 1, the premier class of my sport, together with a proven world-class talent in Valtteri Bottas.”
The move means that all F1 teams have confirmed the driver line-ups for 2022.
Why did Alfa sign Zhou?
Zhou was part of the Ferrari driver academy from 2014 to 18 and switched to Renault’s young driver team in 2019. He has been a test driver for the French company’s F1 team for the past two years.
He will take a sizeable financial package with him to Alfa Romeo, said to be worth several million pounds.
Team principal Frederic Vasseur admitted in an exclusive interview with Sport that this was a factor in Zhou’s signing, saying: “The financial side cannot be hidden.”
But he said that Zhou’s talent was also an important consideration.
Vasseur cited his F2 wins in Bahrain and Silverstone this year as evidence that he “has the ability” to compete at the highest level.
“I don’t know whether he’ll be Formula 2 champion in the end or not,” said Vasseur. “But that doesn’t change the potential for him to be a front runner against some other very experienced guys.
“He’s also got the advantage that he’s been able to do a few days of testing in F1 this season, so he’s not running at zero kilometers.”
Vasseur, who previously led the successful ART team in the junior categories, said he had watched Zhou’s progress for a number of years.
“For China, it doesn’t make sense to bring someone with you if the guy is nowhere [on performance]. You want to be successful, “said Vasseur.
“When he was at the beginning of the story in F3, we said, ‘Maybe that’s a potential [F1 driver]. ‘ And then he won a few races in the F3 Euro Series before moving to F2 and he did well.
“The most important thing for me is that he is a smart guy because he is getting better every year, always doing a better job and putting it all together.”
Zhou brings a significant financial boost
Vasseur said the additional revenue Zhou brings to Alfa Romeo means the team will be able to work with F1’s cost ceiling for the next season – their budget this year is “massively” below $ 145 million (£ 114 million).
“Our sponsors also want to be h -py in the end and develop their commitment to the future, and the financial side cannot be hidden,” said Vasseur.
“The first Chinese driver in F1 – this is mega news for us, for the company, for our sponsors and also for F1 in general.
“A team has to become sustainable at some point. It’s not just about the Chinese sponsors, but also about the presence we will give our current partners.
“Formula 1 is a bit tough today. If you’re not in the top two plus Ferrari, the exposure is very low and this is probably the best way to move up the exposure classification.”
Why did Alfa Romeo choose Bottas as team leader?
Bottas was signed in early September after Mercedes decided to sign George Russell as a team-mate of Lewis Hamilton for the next season.
Vasseur said talks with the Finn, who drove for the Frenchman in the junior categories before making his F1 debut with Williams in 2013, began earlier this season.
“We’ve always had a very good relationship, we went to the same hotel very early in the season and talked about it together one evening,” said Vasseur. “I said, ‘Okay, if one day you’re looking for a team, Valtteri, I’ll be there.’
“This is how we started the discussion and we have progressed step by step. We have a strong personal relationship and I knew he was in a difficult position.
“OK, Mercedes is probably the best team on the grid and to be part of the team is the dream of 18 drivers on the grid today.
“But it wasn’t an easy situation and he was trying to get to the next stage [of his career] Being at the center of a project, and that’s what we discussed from the start.
“We said, ‘Okay, if we want to improve as a team, we have to develop the project around a driver.’ It was always like this with the success stories – with [Sebastian] Vettel at Red Bull or [Fernando] Alonso at Renault or [Michael] Schumacher at Ferrari or Lewis [Hamilton] – trying to build something around someone and that was the project with Valtteri. “
Vasseur said Bottas’ status as lead driver would give the team a benchmark as F1 faces a big change to the regulations this winter, with new cars aimed at closing the grid and making the race more competitive.
Alfa’s difficult season
Alfa Romeo is ninth of ten teams in the Constructors’ Championship with three races to go, but their performance has changed a lot from race to race – Giovinazzi, for example, qualified seventh and tenth in the Netherlands and Italy in early September, but finished in place 18 the starting grid for the next two races in Russia and Turkey.
Vasseur said he would “no longer blame the drivers for the team’s inconsistent performance”.
He emphasized that the midfield is close together in terms of performance, so small details, be it driver mistakes, team mistakes or other factors, can make a big difference.
He also pointed out that Alfa Romeo had not added any new parts to the car since the third or fourth race of the season, that their Ferrari engine had a poor performance compared to the competing units from Mercedes, Honda and Renault, and that in contrast to Alfa has not imposed any penalties on any of its competitors for using more than the permitted number of engines.
Alfa has not benefited from the more powerful hybrid system Ferrari introduced for the final third of the season as they continue to use the engine in the specification it started the year in.
“We made a decision a year ago,” said Vasseur. “I think it’s a good decision for the future. It was tough for 2021 because we knew that if you didn’t develop during the season, you’d be almost dead. But that put the team under pressure to keep track operations, and I think “they did well.”