Zhou Guanyu, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber

Formula 1 News: Zhou Guanyu finally gets to race in Chinese GP

Zhou Guanyu says it will be a “sensational moment” when he takes to the F1 grid at next month’s Chinese Grand Prix, 20 years after he first watched the inaugural event from the grandstands as a child.

Zhou was born and raised in Shanghai, and was taken to the first-ever Grand Prix in China in 2004 when he was just five, where he caught the racing bug and began to idolize Fernando Alonso who was then on the rise to two World Championships with Renault.

2014 Chinese GP in Shanghai
2014 Chinese GP in Shanghai

He went to each edition until he began racing internationally at 13.

Now 24, Zhou will race for Swiss team Sauber on that same tarmac next month alongside his idol, now at Aston Martin, but memories of his first days as a “fan boy” remain vivid.

“I remember exactly where I was sitting every year,” he told the Post. “The first year I was actually very close to the entry of turn one, but most of the time has been in the main grandstand, because from there you can see turns one to three, and also turn five a little bit as well.

“When I was a kid I had binoculars, and I could zoom into the garage, and it was really exciting to see what was going on behind the scenes, and just dreaming [of being] an F1 driver one day.”

Zhou’s arrival in Shanghai, following next month’s Japanese Grand Prix, is set to make huge waves, with a movie-style documentary on his career, The First One, released on April 19, two days before the race.

But while he admits there’s more to be done in terms of F1 promotion in China, he says he has had good support from local racing fans and indeed the government.

“I had [government support] at Silverstone for my first year [in 2022],” Zhou said. “The government people, the President’s people, were able to reach out, making sure I was OK. I’m really proud to have that support, since that doesn’t normally happen often back home.

“And it’s just great that they know someone is racing in Formula One, and making sure they’re taking care of their countrymen.”

Zhou came close to enjoying his maiden home race last year, with the Chinese event included on the original 2023 calendar, but it was cancelled ahead of the season because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. It was a “tough” moment for the Zhou, who did not know how long his career would last.

Zhou Guanyu, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber C44 during the Saudi Arabian GP at Jeddah Street Circuit on Friday March 08, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)
Zhou Guanyu, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber C44 during the Saudi Arabian GP at Jeddah Street Circuit on Friday March 08, 2024 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

“I was following what was happening. Because of the [COVID-19] restrictions we still had in the country, I knew it was not going to be easy, but there was still a 20 per cent chance it would happen,” Zhou said.

“It became tricky when I learned everyone would have to be in quarantine, and at that point I knew it was not going to happen. I was quite a bit upset [about] that just because obviously I had been in F1 for two years already, and I’m the only driver from China, the first driver, [and] would love to race at home.”

Zhou is enduring a tough start to the 2024 season, with the Sauber team without points from the first three races. The Chinese driver finished 15th in Australia, one place behind his veteran teammate Valtteri Bottas.

This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post

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