Guanyu Zhou will be the first Chinese F1 driver to drive full time for Alfa Romeo in 2022. Zhou was born on 30 May 1999 in China. Not much else is known about Zhou other than that he karted in China. He won several championships in China before he decided that he wanted to pursue racing as a career.
In 2012, Zhou shifted to Sheffield looking for a more competitive environment. In 2012. He joined the Strawberry Racing team and won the Super 1 National Rotax Max Junior Championship as well as the Rotax Max Junior Championship. In the second season, Zhou karted in the WSK Championship Cup, KF2 European Championship and in the Karting World Championship.
Formula 4 Formula 3 European Championship
Zhou got his break in single-seater racing when he joined Prema Powerteam in 2015. He raced in F4 and finished the first season as a vice-champion. He also drove in some rounds of the German ADAC F4 Championship and had two podium finishes in Spielberg and Spa.
In 2016, Zhou turned his attention to F3, joining Motopark.
FIA Formula 3 European Championship
With Motopark, Zhou had a successful stint. In Ricard and Hungaroring he finished on the podium. Zhou finished the season in 13th place as he could not find pace during the second half of the season. He rejoined Prema in 2016 and finished with an excellent 5 podium finish. Zhou improved his ranking from 13th to 8th place.
After thinking of joining F2, Zhou remained in F3 with Prema. He had a good start to the season winning his maiden F3 win in Pau. When Zhou won three podiums in Zandvoort, he was only one point short of the leader. He was unlucky to have 4 consecutive retirements due to punctures, and collisions with teammates. Although he won the race in Hockenheim, Zhou was to finish the season in the eighth position. He had 3 poles and 2 wins that year.
FIA Formula 2
Zhou started his Formula 2 career with UNI-Virtuosi Racing in December 2018 for the upcoming 2019 season. Zhou finished third in his maiden appearance in Barcelona. He started the race well and led most of the way. But a degraded tyre forced him t drop to third place. He won another podium in the Monaco sprint race. This time he overtook Artem Markelov at the start and finished third again. Zhou created history at Silverstone by becoming the first Chinese driver to win the Formula 2 pole position.
Although he squandered his pole at Silverston, Zhou would win another third place in the spring race at Paul Ricard. He finished with the third fasted lap at the Abu Dhabi. Finishing seventh in the Formula 2 season, Zhou was awarded the Anthony Hubert Award for being the highest finishing rookie. Zhou remained with UNI-Virtuosi for the 2020 season. His partner was Callum Ilott.
Zhou secured his second Formula 2 pole position in the opening race of the 2020 season at the Red Bull Ring. Electronic problems saw him lose his lead and finish 17th in the race. I Sochi, Zhou won his first Formula 2 race after a crash between cars and a premature end to the race. Six podium finishes across the 2020 F2 season saw him finishing sixth.
Zhou decided to spend the 2021 Formula 2 season with UNI-Virtuosi for the third consecutive year. He converted his pole position into a win, his first in a feature race at the first race in Bahrain. Zhou won another sprint race at the Monaco circuit followed by a podium finish in Baku. He lost his way and went four races without securing a point. Zhou recovered to win the feature race at Silverstone following a spin in the sprint race.
Zhou’s car stalled just before the first race at Sochi and he could only end sixth in the feature race. Oscar Piastri was running away with a huge lead. Round seven at Jeddah saw Zhou’s car spin, and he dropped to third in the standings. In Abu Dhabi, the last venue of the season, Zhou bounced back. He won the sprint race and secured the second spot in the feature race. He finished third in the season with 4 wins, 9 podiums and 1 pole.
His F2 career was over and Zhou would be heading to Formula 1 for the 2022 season.
Why was Guanyu Zhou a suitable candidate for Alfa Romeo?
Kimi Raikkonen had announced that 2021 would be his last Formula 1 season. Alfa Romeo immediately signed the services of another experienced Formula 1 driver …Valtteri Bottas from Mercedes. The second driver used to be from the Ferrari junior driver pool. With Alfa Romeo sponsoring the title from 2022, the situation changed this year. The team could choose any driver of their choice. Antonio Giovinazzi, who was engaged by Alfa Romeo for three years had a competitor.
There were several options and the team was looking for a fresh, yet experienced talented driver. Under the guidance of the immensely experienced Bottas, Alfa Romeo could improve their standings in Formula 1. Here’s where Zhou came in. The fact that Zhou came with sponsorships was a bonus. Chinese companies are expected to sponsor the first Chinese F1 driver.
The talks however were put on hold when Michael Andretti, the owner of an IndyCar team expressed an interest in buying the operation. Andretti wanted to promote IndyCar star, Colton Herta. The talks fell through and Alpha Romeo continued their negotiations with Zhou. The deal was finalised before the Brazilian Grand Prix.