It was an eventful Monaco Grand Prix for Zhou Guanyu after a disappointing qualifying (resulting from a poorly timed red flag) meant a starting position of P20 for the Chinese rookie. However, making it round Monaco unscathed, delivering a miracle save and crossing the line P16 is certain to boost the confidence of Zhou Guanyu as the F1 circus moves to Azerbaijan.
Eight drivers from the current Formula One grid have been promoted from feeder series Formula 2 in the last five years including George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Mick Schumacher and Alex Albon. These names are widely known in the world of F1, and rookie Zhou Guanyu has now joined the list in 2022 following his promotion to F1 after his third-place position last year in Formula 2.
The F2 champion of that year, Oscar Piastri as well as runner up Robert Shwartzman are yet to make it to the pinnacle of motorsport but the recent performances from Zhou Guanyu (already a point scorer in F1) give reason to believe he could be around in F1 for many years to come.
In Monaco, during challenging conditions, Zhou Guanyu had a clean race whereas Mick Schumacher was not so lucky due to his high speed and costly crash (in more ways than one) which saw his Haas literally split in two. Motorlat asked Alfa Romeo Team ORLEN’s head of trackside engineering Xevi Pujolar, after the Monaco Grand Prix, to share his thoughts on Zhou Guanyu navigating the circuit in such challenging conditions without incident.
“I think that's very good for his confidence and also in changeable conditions he was very, I think, confident. Every time we asked him for the track condition, and what it seems about the tyres, or if we can keep going with extreme wet with a full wet tyre when it was getting dry. So, on that one, he kept it pretty clean even though he had a lot of pressure from Gasly behind.” Pujolar explained.
It could have been a very different story though had Zhou Guanyu not pulled off a miracle save shortly after exiting the tunnel during the Monaco Grand Prix. In the latter stages of the race, during an attempt to pass the AlphaTauri of Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu’s reaction time was tested to the limit. As the pair exited the tunnel approaching turn 10, Zhou Guanyu attempted an overtake but in doing so found himself on the wet part of the track as a result of Tsunoda moving across to block the move. In the moments after, the rear of Zhou Guanyu’s C42 looked destined for the barrier as it started to spin but control was regained, and Zhou Guanyu continued unscathed.
Xevi Pujolar, Alfa’s head of trackside engineering, reflected on Zhou Guanyu’s memorable move when asked about it post-race by Motorlat:
“Then the last part of the race, we were asking him [Zhou Guanyu] to put pressure on Tsunoda. He had a tough one braking for turn ten because we're asking him to put a lot of pressure and he did and then he kept it safe. It was good to try, it didn't work, but I think from, you know the position where we were, it was worth trying it and he did it very well. I think his racecraft it always has been from race one very impressive so we're very pleased on that.” Pujolar said.
Zhou Guanyu’s reaction on team radio at the time of his Monaco near-miss confirmed it was a moment of great concern as the Chinese driver quipped ‘I need new pants after that!’ Zhou Guanyu would later speak in greater detail about the moment to select press which included Motorlat.
“That was probably one of the closest laps behind Yuki, so I really had to dive up the inside at the last minute. Unfortunately, he tried to cover a little bit, and at that moment, I tried to avoid that and hit the wet patch. That was just about keeping the car on-track there.” Zhou concluded.
The saying in Formula One is that if you can drive around Monaco - you can drive anywhere. Zhou Guanyu’s post-race comments showed that he appreciates that this experience will benefit him well in future:
“I guess normal race tracks in the wet will be a little bit better now after experiencing Monaco…The Monaco experience as a whole was tough, but I didn’t do any mistakes and I was matching the pace of the cars in the midfield, so I can be satisfied about that.” Zhou concluded.
This Sunday’s visit to Azerbaijan should provide Zhou Guanyu an opportunity to get back up to speed. While his teammate Valtteri Bottas has brought home points in every race he's finished so far in 2022 – Saudi Arabia was his sole DNF this season – Zhou Guanyu has failed to score since the opening race of the season. The form of Alfa Romeo and confidence flowing through the team means that there is every reason to expect that to change in Baku this weekend. If it does, then there is also every reason to expect Zhou Guanyu to remain on an F1 grid for at least another year to come.