Alfa Romeo believe they have signed their own Max Verstappen in the form of Guanyu Zhou. The Italian team signed the 22-year-old along with Valtteri Bottas to replace Antonio Giovinazzi and the retired Kimi Raikonnen. The F1 rookie is the first Chinese driver to enter the sport and will be keen to make a good impression. He finished third in the 2021 F2 championship, having notched four wins, one pole and nine podiums.
Despite entering his debut F1 campaign where some stiff challengers await him, Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur has high hopes for the young prodigy, but will not be putting any pressure on him. “Also mainly due to the fact that we’ll have a new car, we have [next to] no testing… three days of testing per driver. But I think he’s a clever guy. He has a good [approach].
“F1 is a big challenge, but he showed in F2 that he has a rational approach, a methodical approach. “When he came to the factory [at Hinwil], he was very lucid on the different aspects. The level of competition in F1 is very high. We don’t have 25 days of testing or practice before the season. “But we’ll give him time to improve, for sure, without the pressure of results.”
Currently, the time for testing is limited and Zhou has had to use predominantly simulator work to prepare himself for his rookie season. Vasseur alluded to the likes of Max Verstappen who adopted the same process when he began his career, and is now the F1 world champion. “If you have a look at the last couple of seasons, it seems to work for the young kids,” he added.
“With Max [Verstappen], he came into F1 without a large background. With Charles [Leclerc], he did well the first season. With [George] Russell, with [Lando] Norris, they did well in the first season. “We have different tools compared to the past with the simulator but I think that, also, the young kids are much more mature today than they were 20 years ago.”
Highlighting how eager he is to get started on helping Zhou adjust to the rigours of F1, Vasseur is confident he can bring out the best of his abilities. “I’m fully convinced that we can develop the skill of a young driver and [I’m] keen to do it,” he said. “I spent my life doing it in the past. I will push like hell to get the best from Zhou, and I think he has a very good approach – very positive, very methodical.” Zhou will get his first opporutnity to show off his skills on the biggest stage when the 2022 F1 season begins on March 20 in Bahrain.