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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Why Alfa Romeo selected Zhou for its F1 workforce

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In so doing the 22-year-old turns into China’s first driver on the prime stage of motor racing, offering the championship with a lift the final word scale of which we are able to solely guess at.

It’s no coincidence that the announcement got here a couple of weeks after F1 confirmed that the Chinese language GP will return in 2023 after a three-year pandemic hiatus, with a deal that now runs till 2025.

Former F1 CEO Chase Carey and his successor Stefano Domenicali have usually talked about China in the identical breath because the USA when it comes to markets they wish to conquer and, with Zhou, F1 now has an opportunity to just do that.

The hope all through the paddock is that he can have the type of affect that Max Verstappen has had within the Netherlands, or Sergio Perez in Mexico.

“I feel for the corporate, for present sponsors work, for the 9 different groups, for F1 normally, it is an enormous alternative,” workforce boss Fred Vasseur tells Autosport.

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“Enormous. I feel it is actually necessary that if you wish to develop the workforce, however even for F1, the strategy is similar. It is sensible to open a brand new market like China.

“And I feel that Zhou would be the excellent ambassador for this, as a result of he did very properly within the junior sequence, significantly better than all of the Chinese language drivers earlier than. Nevertheless I do know completely that will probably be a problem, as a result of it is at all times a problem if you find yourself becoming a member of F1.”

Zhou clearly comes along with his personal sponsorship bundle, however his arrival is a lift too for the workforce’s different current backers. Alfa Romeo sells vehicles in China, whereas title sponsor Orlen additionally has a robust presence.

“All people’s excited,” says Vasseur. “It isn’t nearly Alfa Romeo, Orlen or one other one, you understand that everyone’s attempting to develop business hyperlinks with China, and that is one of the simplest ways to do it.”

And the hope is that different Chinese language firms will come on board in future seasons: “It is rather more about potential. It could possibly be a lot quicker than ‘23/’24. For us and our gross sales division, it is an enormous alternative, and we’ve to work on it.”

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photograph by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

The business facet is essential to his deal, however it could be fallacious to dismiss Zhou as a pay driver – in spite of everything there are lots of others on the present grid connected to business packages.

He’s additionally a massively promising expertise who has proven regular upward progress by means of his profession. He at the moment lies second within the FIA F2 championship, admittedly in his third 12 months within the class, however that makes him greater than certified to make the step up on advantage.

“It was an necessary resolution for the corporate, for the way forward for the corporate,” says Vasseur.

“Now we have a giant change when it comes to laws for 2022. We evaluated all of the choices that we had on the desk. Valtteri was fairly apparent for me. And alongside Valtteri, we had totally different choices, and for tons of various causes Zhou is the primary selection.

“It is by no means one factor. Efficiency shouldn’t be primarily based on one single pillar, it is at all times a mixture of velocity, collaboration with the workforce, collaboration with the workforce mate, the monetary facet. And for the event of the corporate, I feel it is a good step ahead.”

An intriguing side of Zhou’s profession is that his household made an early dedication to carry him to Europe in his teenagers. It was a giant step, and one which has paid off.

“Placing apart the very fact he is Chinese language, it’s spectacular to do this sort of transfer if you find yourself 13, as a result of I feel he was 13 when he got here to Italy,” says Vasseur.

“I bear in mind completely when guys like Stoffel Vandoorne went to Japan, they have been a lot older, however for them it was large. At first Stoffel was struggling to be in entrance in Japan.

“We do not have to underestimate this. Additionally when they’re able to handle this side of the state of affairs, they’re doing step ahead, as a result of it is an actual problem.”

Progress has been an indicator of Zhou’s profession, steered by a administration workforce that features former Manor/Marussia F1 workforce boss Graeme Lowdon.

Runner-up within the 2015 Italian F4 championship – in a discipline that noticed Lando Norris make occasional appearances – Zhou subsequently spent three seasons in F3 with Motopark and latterly Prema, profitable a few races in his ultimate 12 months.

Guanyu Zhou, Uni-Virtuosi Racing

Guanyu Zhou, Uni-Virtuosi Racing

Photograph by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Shifting as much as F2 with UNI-Virtuosi he scored a number of podium finishes in 2019, and took his first dash win in 2020, when he completed sixth within the championship. This 12 months has seen an extra step with characteristic wins in Bahrain and Silverstone.

” that I am paying a number of consideration to the junior sequence,” says Vasseur. “In F2 he did properly final 12 months, and he is doing very properly this season. He did two or three pole positions. He had some wins. I feel that if you’re capable of win in Silverstone it is a good sign.

“He is a frontrunner, and he can nonetheless be champion on the finish, however it’s very tight. He is doing a really strong job. I feel it motive for us to maneuver ahead with him.

“We did not collaborate within the junior sequence, and I do not know him very properly. However when you’ve got a glance, he appeared to have the ability to enhance, and meaning that he’s intelligent, and step-by-step, he doing the job. Who is aware of if he will likely be champion or not on the finish? It is a bit too early.

“However he did very sturdy occasions this season in F2, sturdy quali, sturdy races. In some occasions he was simply flying. I feel that he’s mixture of the whole lot. And I like additionally his strategy, relationship with the workforce administration, and that is necessary.”

Progress is essential: “Now we have to maintain the identical momentum. For certain if he is ready to enhance and to progress over time like this, it reveals that he has the best strategy.

“I feel that his administration are very skilled, they’re able to assist him rather a lot, and we all know one another for ages. And it is also good to have this sort of relationship across the drivers.”

Zhou has been working away quietly with Alpine as a junior driver, operating within the sim and testing the workforce’s {old} Renault chassis, in addition to finishing an FP1 session in Austria earlier this 12 months.

The mileage has given him a helpful head begin earlier than his first Alfa run in Abu Dhabi subsequent month.

“He’d carried out maybe 10 take a look at days or one thing like this, and a number of simulator periods. It is a good coaching, and it is necessary as a result of that we all know completely that the variety of take a look at days subsequent 12 months will likely be tough.

“Now we have six take a look at days on paper, plus Abu Dhabi, then we all know that we may have some points with the climate in Bahrain or Barcelona, and that the reliability shouldn’t be assured, as a result of it is a fully new automobile.”

One factor is obvious – he’s now an Alfa Romeo driver, and he’s leaving Alpine behind.

“He isn’t managed in any respect by Alpine, and isn’t anymore below contract with Alpine,” says Vasseur. “It was necessary for me, as a result of I would like additionally to be free and to work for the longer term. It will make no sense for me to have a one-year venture if I do know that for ‘23 there isn’t any method.

Guanyu Zhou, Alpine A521

Guanyu Zhou, Alpine A521

Photograph by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“I’ve relationship with Alpine. And it is necessary additionally for me to do it very brazenly, to debate with them the state of affairs. Ultimately it is a good story additionally for them, they helped him to come back to F1.”

Alfa heads into the brand new period of 2022 as the one workforce to have modified each drivers. It’s an intriguing mixture, with Bottas lastly out of the shadow of Lewis Hamilton as clear workforce chief, and Zhou the rookie discovering his toes.

“To have this sort of line-up with Valtteri having carried out pole positions and gained races is a big push for the corporate,” says Vasseur. “We all know additionally that he can have an enormous strain on his shoulders subsequent 12 months.

“I like this sense on the finish of the day, as a result of we’re all working below strain. And that is the DNA of our enterprise. And subsequent 12 months will likely be an enormous problem for us, with Zhou, with Valtteri for various causes, and the brand new automobile. It is an thrilling problem.”

What the workforce gained’t have is continuity within the cockpit. With all the opposite modifications gained’t that lack of a reference be a handicap?

“I do not assume so,” says Vasseur. “I do know that Guenther [Steiner] is satisfied with this, however I do not assume so. I feel that it is necessary to have somebody with expertise. As a result of the workforce could possibly be a bit misplaced. However then to do the comparability with the automobile of the 12 months earlier than, it is senseless.”

It could possibly be argued {that a} change of guidelines is the best time to usher in a rookie, because it’s a re-set for everybody else as properly.

“I do not know if there’s a good time to do it. While you see the laws at this time, it is fairly an enormous step. However alternatively F2 can be preparation, they’re already operating the 18-inch tire with Pirelli. They’re operating the identical tracks. I feel that the timing is nice for him.”

Zhou can be good sufficient to not make waves and to soak up what he can from his new workforce mate.

“I hope that we are going to give him the chance to be taught from Valtteri,” says Vasseur. “And it is at all times helpful to have somebody with expertise alongside, when the man is ready to do pole positions and to win races, it is a good instance.

“And on the highest of this I feel Valtteri is an efficient skilled, man. He will likely be useful for the workforce, he will likely be useful for Zhou, and the collaboration will likely be high quality.”

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi

Photograph by: Components Motorsport Ltd

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