Paddock Magazine sat down for an exclusive interview with Formula One’s first-ever Chinese driver, Guanyu Zhou. The 23-year-old driver made his F1 debut in 2022 after finishing third in last year’s Formula 2 campaign.
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You proved everyone wrong who had doubts over your qualities before joining F1. How could you summarize the F1 journey so far?
Well, it’s been reasonably good. I met the goals the team, and I set before the season. I feel like I was able to show my abilities straight away from race one. On the other hand, I had plenty of DNF’s due to reliability issues at the beginning of the season – which was not pleasant. If I remember well, there were three occasions when I could have scored points if we had better reliability.
All in all, it’s a good starting point. I need to keep scoring points, and let’s see what the future holds. I love the challenge of proving myself, and I must keep working toward my target.
Is there a significant difference between Formula 2 and the pinnacle of motorsports, Formula 1?
The main difference is the amount of pressure on your shoulders. Around ten times more people follow Formula 1, so there are many more expectations from the fans. All your actions and movements are monitored and can highlight the slightest mistake. Regarding the driving part – we have power steering in F1, which is entirely different from F2. Car behaviour is significantly different, especially in high-speed corners. You need to feel one with the car to be competitive.
Racing against my childhood hero, Fernando Alonso – it’s a truly unbelievable experience.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a racing driver?
I’ve always liked cars, and I have played with cars since my childhood. I was fortunate enough to follow the first ever F1 race in China trackside, and that was the moment when I fell in love with Formula 1. We went there, and I said, „that’s what I want to do”. A few years later, I started karting. It did become my passion, and it was clear that I wanted to become a professional racing driver. I love the high-level competition, and looking for an extra hundredth or thousandth of a second is cool.
You chose 24 as your permanent race number because of Kobe Bryant. Are you interested in other sports as well?
Yeah, I’m interested in several different sports. I picked 24 because of Kobe. That’s correct. I watched basketball from a very young age. The way he trained and behaved is extraordinary. Kobe had a great mentality, and he became a true legend. Unfortunately, my favourite number has already been taken, which is 3, so I wanted to choose 3 or 33. Eventually, I opted for Kobe’s number; hopefully, luck will be on my side.
We learned that Fernando Alonso was your childhood hero. Why did he become your idol?
Fernando was the driver I started to follow and support when I was a child. I became his fan in 2005 when he won his first championship title. Back then, I didn’t even race myself, and now, in 2022, I’m racing against my childhood hero, Fernando Alonso – it’s a truly unbelievable experience. Even if he doesn’t have the best car, he can challenge and beat faster cars. He’s always there, and I really like the way he performs. He’d have deserved to win more championships, but in Formula 1, it’s tough to win the title if you have much faster teams in the field. Perhaps Fernando didn’t have the most straightforward career, but nevertheless, he’s always shown his pure talent and skills.
We can work extremely well together with Valtteri.
You’ll have a home Grand Prix next year. Are you looking forward to race in front of your own crowd?
Yes, of course! Chinese GP should be happening again next year. It’ll be an unbelievable feeling to race at home in front of my own crowd. I attended the first Formula 1 race at the Shanghai International Circuit as a spectator, and hopefully, next year, I’ll have the chance to race there in a Formula 1 car. I bet it’ll be a fantastic experience, and the crowd will go crazy. I can’t wait!
Is Formula 1 on the way up in China as well?
Definitely, it’s getting more and more popular. The number of F1 fans has increased in China after I joined the grid. I can see several kids started doing karting, which is nice to see. We last raced in 2019, but it was sold out pretty quickly. I expect the same thing to happen again once the race in 2023 gets confirmed. It will be my home Grand Prix, and I’ll surely enjoy it. [Zhou’s 2023 contract is yet to be confirmed by Alfa Romeo.]
Is there any young talent in China who can make it to Formula 1 anytime soon?
Obviously, there are some younger drivers in lower categories. If you get to F2 and do a decent job, you always have the chance to get a seat in F1. Hopefully, we’ll have another Chinese driver racing in Formula 1. It’s not easy to get into the sport – especially if you’re coming from a country like China. It is what it is, you always need to do your best, and if you’re talented enough, you’ll earn a seat in F1.
What’s it like racing for such a brand as Alfa Romeo? What’s your comment on their departure at the end of 2023?
Yes, Alfa Romeo is a huge brand, and it’s a pleasure racing for them. They allowed me to kick off my F1 career, and I’ll never forget it. Although they will exit Formula 1 at the end of next year, we still have a strong relationship with Alfa Romeo and Sauber. Hopefully, we can finish the partnership on a high because the last couple of years weren’t the strongest for the team in terms of results.
Your teammate, Valtteri Bottas, has lots of experience in F1. Can you work well together?
Yes, Valtteri is a great teammate. He’s a friendly and accommodating guy. He often has some helpful advice that I can take. In my opinion, it’s essential to have a teammate so that you can work efficiently together. As you said, Valtteri has a lot of experience and is one of the quickest drivers on one lap. Therefore, it means a lot when I can be on his level during a qualifying session. For sure, it means extra pressure when you have such a quick and competitive teammate, but we can work exceptionally well together. Valtteri has been helping me a lot throughout the season. We’re at different stages of our careers, which probably helps our relationship. I try to learn from Valtteri and continuously close the gap with him.
I guess you’re pretty much interested in fashion. How has it started?
Well, it all started many years ago. I like to wear cool clothes to express myself, and I’m happy to have a platform for that in Formula 1. I can show the style I prefer, and people also like it. In the future, I definitely want to do something in the fashion industry, but at the moment, it’s too early to think about it. My goal is to design clothes and helmets in the future.
Do you have a favourite brand?
I have a few brands that I really like, but I better not say it now. [Laughs]