Speculation had been at fever pitch following Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN’s twitter post the day before. With the eyes of a tiger and a capitalised ‘TOMORROW’ across the face of it – plus the caption ‘The future starts tomorrow!’ - many posed suggestions of what could follow. Now, less than 24 hours, we know it is the news of a contract extension for Zhou Guanyu.
There had been many on social media who had already correctly joined the dots. The tiger image had represented the Year of the Tiger – the current year of the Chinese Zodiac. Even so, there were those who predicted an Audi announcement was the big surprise. That may yet still come – time will tell.
Today though, is all about Zhou Guanyu, a man known for debut F1 points on his first race at the Bahrain Grand Prix as well as for having the courage to return to an F1 cockpit after his horrific high-speed crash earlier in the season at Silverstone.
When today’s news was announced by Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN, the press release said: During the course of a successful debut campaign, Zhou has demonstrated levels of maturity and racecraft that belie his young age, contributing to the development of the team as it makes its way to what is currently P6 in the Constructors’ Championship. As such, for many this news was not a surprise but that made it no less welcome.
Zhou Guanyu made history as the first driver from China to compete in Formula One and his remarks showed he is unsurprisingly thrilled to continue making history by remaining on the F1 grid.
Speaking to the official website of Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN, Zhou Guanyu said:
“I am happy and grateful to Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN for the opportunity to be part of the team for another season. Making it to Formula One was a dream come true and the feeling of competing for the first time in a race will live with me forever: the team has been incredibly supportive, welcoming me from day one and helping me adapt to the most complex series in motorsport. There is more that I want to achieve in this sport and with the team, and the hard work we have put together since the start of the year is just the first step towards where we want to be next season. There is still a lot to learn, a lot to develop but I am confident in our work: I am looking forward to the next chapter of our story together.”
Televised remarks by Zhou Guanyu, courtesy of Sky Sports, continued the excited theme as he told the interviewer: Next year I’ll be staying with the team for another year. It’s amazing because to have that so early on of the year. I think the team is very satisfied with everything I was able to do. I’m happy with the job I was able to prove so far this season so looking forward to have many more to come together.
“It’s been tough, and it’s been a challenge – that’s no doubt. But, on the other hand I very [much] enjoy my time here because of course Formula One is my dream, but then to be in it and also fighting for points and fighting for the best we could for our car is always amazing to have. On the other hand, I’ve been through a tough moment like in the past having DNFs which is quite hurting. But in the end, it just made me a stronger driver overall. So, I’m happy with all this stuff I’ve been through and still coming out with decent results and qualifying performances – so I’m happy with that.
Zhou Guanyu will partner Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN as the Finnish racer was already signed to a contract next year. Zhou Guanyu was also quick to pay tribute to Bottas stating: “He’s been amazing, he is one of the best teammates I ever had in racing. To have such experience in a quick teammate and also willing to help you with everything he had and also very open to the team so it’s very much information I can take from him and learned a lot from him during the season. Yes, he did help me quite massively during this learning curve so far. So made me a big step of improvement. So very thanks to have him and very lucky to have him so looking forward to another year working together.”
Meanwhile, Team Principal, Frédéric Vasseur, was earlier quoted in the press release stating: “I am looking forward to continuing working with Zhou. From day one with the team, at the Abu Dhabi test last year, he has impressed me with his approach to work and this is always a very positive trait. We knew he was quick, but the way he adapted to Formula One in such a short time has been one of the best surprises of our season. He is a very nice guy, everyone in the team likes both his personality and attitude. He has had the humility to ask questions and learn, from the engineers as well as Valtteri, and the intelligence to apply all the information he got to improve race after race. He will have this experience to draw on next season, and I am sure he will make another step forward as we continue to grow our team.”
Vasseur is clearly a fan of Zhou Guanyu and with the draft of the 2023 calendar listing the first Chinese Grand Prix since 2019 – there may soon be many more fans of the Chinese racer. A returning Shanghai based Grand Prix would surely be a spectacle in itself but to have the prospect of a Chinese driver (originally from Shanghai) on the grid - would surely make it a sell-out affair.
There may well be over a billion people of a tv audience in the wings ready to cheer Zhou Guanyu. One can imagine that this should this come to pass, it would be accompanied with a certain level of pressure, but Zhou Guanyu has shown that he can handle it. All this is speculation. What is fact, is that there will be 20 drivers on the F1 grid in 2023 and Zhou Guanyu will be one of them.