Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN’s rookie racer Zhou Guanyu has made up nine positions in his first three F1 races and already scored a Drivers’ Championship point after a stunning debut in Bahrain. Having just missed out on P10 in Melbourne, Alfa’s Head of Track Engineering, Xevi Pujolar, in a post-race press conference with select media including MotorLAT, described Zhou Guanyu’s performance as ‘very good, another strong and solid weekend.’
Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN started the 2022 F1 season by scoring double points under the lights in Bahrain but then had a race to forget at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Melbourne provided an opportunity to bounce back at the Australian Grand Prix and Valtteri Bottas did just that after crossing the line in P8 having started in P12. His rookie team-mate, Zhou Guanyu, was close to making it a double-points finish for the team just missing out as he crossed the line in P11. Nevertheless, the performance of Zhou Guanyu was a notable one and showed the race pace the Chinese driver possesses.
Motorlat asked Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN Head of Track Engineering, Xevi Pujolar, for his thoughts on Zhou Guanyu’s weekend at a track which he had not raced at before.
“I think in general, overall, I would say very good, another strong and solid weekend you can see how many people had problems, incidents crashing for us it was very important to start the weekend…build up session by session and not push too much.”
Alfa Romeo could have had a much smoother race day had they qualified further up the grid, but the car was not responding quick enough to the C5 tyre compound and this is an area which Xevi Pujolar and his team are eager to address.
“I think it was quite challenging for him with the C5, not only for him but also Valtteri… but that's more on our side we need to understand how we can help them with this type of compound.”
Valtteri Bottas started last Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix in P12, but his teammate was just over seven tenths slower and slotted into P14 on the grid. However, Xevi Pujolar revealed the confidence that the team had in Zhou Guanyu being able to move up through the field on race day.
“For Zhou it was also a bigger challenge in qualifying this time but we know in the race, for race pace, he’s always fighting, he’s very good and he has done it again today…he was fighting for the points until the last lap – that was very good.” Pujolar said.
Such remarks are no doubt very encouraging for Zhou Guanyu because in a sport where every point is crucial, to be met with such praise having not scored one – shows how highly his talent is regarded in the team.
We have only completed three races of the 2022 F1 season and already Zhou Guanyu has shown great progress. He appears to have addressed the issue he had with launching off the grid at race starts; he is managing his tyres in race conditions effectively and he is not shy of battling any driver on track for position. It is clear that Zhou Guanyu was in a tense battle for points in Melbourne and Xevi Pujolar supported this belief saying “it was very very close” in his remarks to Motorlat.
The 2022 F1 cars run much closer to the ground and next up on the calendar is a trip to Imola. Historically, cars ride the kerbs at this venue so a new approach will surely be needed by Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas to avoid damaging the floor of their car.
This question was posed to Xevi Pujolar, and he admitted “It is something that we are taking into consideration and a limiting factor of some locations for how we need to set up the car.” However, Zhou Guanyu has shown he can adapt quickly so will likely not be a major problem for the Chinese rookie.
Imola also brings the first F1 sprint of the season and having struggled at times in qualifying, Xevi Pujolar feels that his team’s race pace is definitely stronger than in qualifying. Alfa’s race pace shows the team can compete with Alpine and McLaren – a view shared by Pujolar.
“I think in race pace we can easily fight them. The sprint quali format, if anything, it will be good for us. We will have to see the updates people bring to Imola, but we hope to have both cars fighting for the points. For Zhou, it’s even better this type of format as well because it gives him a chance. He’s a very good racer, so in the sprint quali, he could can gain some further positions…so both cars can be fighting for solid points.”
Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen currently sit in sixth position in the F1 Constructors’ Championship. Having come so near to scoring a point yet again in F1, Zhou Guanyu spoke to his team’s official website:
“I am proud of my race, but obviously I am a bit upset at missing out on the points for such a close margin. Our pace was good, but we lost a few positions with the safety car and that made our life a lot harder. I gave it all and pushed so hard at the end, but I had no tyres left when I got to battle Alex and I couldn’t make it in front. Still, we solved the problem at the start and the race was good: I am looking back at my first three rounds in Formula One and my worst result is 11th, so I can build on this positive start, aiming to score points in every race.”
Zhou Guanyu wrote on his social media channels “P11, that was close! Thank you Melbourne, that was fun!” More fun can no doubt be expected from Zhou Guanyu in Imola and probably a return to point scoring. The flamboyant Chinese driver is certainly a fun racer to watch - and not just for his fashion. This ‘very good racer’ has started his F1 career in a way which shows that he has every chance to be around in the pinnacle of motorsport for many years to come.