Only a handful of countries have produced Formula 1 drivers. Most of the drivers today come from Europe. But now, Guanyu Zhou will make Formula 1 history as the first driver to come from China. The 22-year old from Shanghai will be making his Formula 1 debut in the 2022 season with the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN Team. He replaces Antonio Giovinazzi who will leave the racing team at the end of the season and will partner with soon-to-be former Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.
Zhou is currently competing in Formula 2 and sits second in the championship standings behind Oscar Piastri. Before joining the Alfa Romeo F1 team, he was part of the Alpine young driver program and a test driver for the team. At the 2021 Austrian GP, Zhou was given his first F1 experience during Free Practice 1 in place of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.
"It is a pleasure to welcome Guanyu Zhou to Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN. He is a very talented driver, as his results in F2 have shown, and we are looking forward to helping his talent flourish even more in Formula One. We are proud of our line-up for 2022 and we are confident Zhou will form a very successful partnership with Valtteri. We are also looking forward to welcoming all the new Chinese fans who will join the team," said Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal of Alfa Romeo ORLEN.
Some of Zhou's achievements in Zhou's racing career include finishing second in his first Italian F4 championship in 2015. Having joined the Ferrari Driver Academy, he then competed in three seasons of European F3 before switching to Renault's junior program. While he currently sits in second place in F2, there is still a chance for him to claim the championship during the final races of the 2021 season.
There will be a lot of pressure on Zhou being the first Chinese Formula 1 driver. Before him, Ma Qinghua and Ho Pin Tung were the only other Chinese drivers to get behind the wheel of an F1 car.
Ma participated in several practice sessions with HRT and Caterham in 2012 and 2013. However, Qinghua was not able to make it beyond a test driver. Meanwhile, Tung first tested his driving skills with Williams in 2003. He then became a test driver from BMW Sauber in 2007. Then in 2010, he became the third driver for Renault F1 team alongside Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov.
"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. I feel well prepared for the immense challenge of Formula 1, the pinnacle of my sport, alongside a proven, world-class talent in Valtteri Bottas. I wish to thank the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN team for this opportunity. Next year the target will be to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible. To be the first-ever Chinese driver in Formula 1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history. 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," said Zhou.
With Zhou completing the lineup of Alfa Romeo, the 2022 season is shaping up to be an exciting one. Will the Chinese driver be able to make an impact in his debut next year? We hope so.