Guanyu Zhou: Who is the Newest Formula One Rookie?


Grace Bergeon, Staff Writer

Guanyu Zhou will be the only new rookie gracing the 2022 F1 grid (Alex Albon will be returning to the grid after losing a seat during the 2021 season). With his promotion to Formula One from Formula Two, he became the first Chinese full time driver. When Alfa Romeo announced Zhou’s addition to their team for 2022, it caused quite a stir. There were headlines which called the move “ruthless” and many fans were very upset. The majority of the backlash comes from the fact Oscar Piastri, the 2021 Formula Two champion does not have a seat for next year. While Zhou had a respectable three wins to his name during the 2021 season, Piastri is overall considered the better driver. Zhou did come second in the F2 drivers championship, but “[Oscar] didn’t just win, he dominated”, as current Formula One driver Daniel Riccardo put it. 

Unfortunately, in motorsport, and particularly in Formula One talent doesn’t necessarily mean you have a spot. Formula One is an incredibly expensive sport and it costs hundreds of millions of dollars for teams to operate. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes won the 2020 constructors and drivers championship, and it cost them $459 million. It is expected that drivers bring in some of this money, whether that be from sponsors or from their own pockets (or in almost all of the cases, their parents pockets). Even though Piastri managed to beat Zhou on the track, when it comes to financial backing, Guanyu wins. It is rumored that Zhou is bringing as much as $30 million dollars to Alfa Romeo next year, a much needed push for the struggling midfield team. Chris Piastri, Oscar’s father, “estimates that he and his family, along with sponsors, supporters and companies … pumped between $5.5 million and $6.5 million into [Oscar’s] F1 dream,”.  As these numbers reflect, motorsport isn’t for everyone and the sport mainly caters to children of millionaires, billionaires, or at least to people with hefty sponsors in their corners. Unfortunately, for many drivers, money is the defining factor of getting a F1 seat or not. Talent only gets you so far and as seven time world champion Lewis Hamilton put it “cash is king,”.  

It would be foolish to say Guanyu didn’t have any talent, as a run of the mill trust fund baby would not have made it into F2. But how did Guanyu find his way into Formula One? Zhou was born in Shanghai in 1999 and began karting at age 8. After finding much success in the Chinese circuits he moved to Sheffield, England in 2012 to pursue his dream of becoming a Formula One driver. While karting, he joined the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2014. He won the Super 1 National Rotax Max Junior Championship and Rotax Max Euro Challenge. After coming 2nd in the Rotax Max Senior Euro Challenge he decided to move to Formula 4 (Italian F4 Championship). There, he raced with Prema Powerteam. He came in second and won best rookie. In 2016 he joined team Motopark for the Formula 3 championship (FIA European F3 Championship). Despite a promising start to his season, Guanyu finished 13th. He remained in F3 the following two years where he placed 8th both times. In 2019 he left the Ferrari Driver Academy to join Renault Sport Academy. The same year he moved up to FIA Formula 2, driving for UNI-Virtuosi Racing, where he stayed for the next three years. Unfortunately, he struggled to frequent the top of the podium and only managed to get five victories during his F2 career, three of them coming his last season. It is important to point out, it is a bit atypical for a driver to stay in F2 for that long, as many either get a F1 seat after one or two seasons, or move on to different racing series like IndyCar.   

Guanyu brings money and likely a massive Chinese Audience. He has even been dubbed  “China’s great F1 hope”. As the first full time driver from his country many new Chinese Formula One fans will tune in to see how well Zhou is doing. He is the key to expanding F1 into China and could possibly bring in a lot of money to not just Alfa Romeo, but to the whole sport with new Chinese fans and sponsors.