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Formula 1: Zhou Guanyu confirmed at Alfa Romeo for 2022

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Beijing, Nov 17 (IANS) Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu will race for Alfa Romeo in the 2022 Formula 1 season, the Swiss-based team has announced. In doing so, Zhou will become the first driver from China to race in the Formula 1 world championship.

The 22-year-old currently sits second in the 2021 Formula 2 championship and had been widely tipped to land a seat at Alfa for several months, with the Shanghai-born driver said to be bringing considerable commercial backing with him.

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“I dreamed from a young age of climbing as high as I can in a sport that I am passionate about and now the dream has come true,” Zhou said in an Alfa Romeo statement on Tuesday evening.

“To be the first ever Chinese driver in Formula 1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history. I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more.”

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Zhou will partner 10-time Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas, whose move to Alfa from reigning champions Mercedes was announced earlier this year, Xinhua reports. In joining Alfa, Zhou will cut his ties with Alpine’s junior driver programme, which he had joined in 2019 with the hope of stepping up to F1 with the French outfit.

The Chinese driver had tested extensively for Alpine in two-year old machinery, and took part in an F1 practise session for the first time at this year’s Austrian GP, when he took over Fernando Alonso’s car. However, with Alonso and fellow incumbent Esteban Ocon set to continue racing for Alpine next year, Zhou was obliged to look elsewhere for a seat on the 2022 grid.

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Zhou and Bottas will form an all-new lineup for Alfa Romeo next year, with the pair replacing Antonio Giovinazzi and the retiring Kimi Raikkonen. News of Zhou’s move to Alfa was welcomed by many within the F1 paddock, given the Shanghai native’s potential to raise the profile of the sport in the lucrative Chinese market.

“This is fantastic news for F1 and the millions of passionate Chinese fans that now have a home hero to cheer all year long,” said F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. “Zhou is an incredible talent and he will be a fantastic addition to the amazing grid we have and he will entertain and keep all our Chinese fans excited in 2022.”

Zhou admitted it “feels so unreal but exciting” to have secured the last available seat for the 2022 F1 season. “It feels like something I’ve been longing for was finally realised. It means a lot to me.”

Born in 1999, Zhou first hit the track in go-karts at the age of seven. In order to pursue a better development in motorsport, Zhou left his hometown of Shanghai at age 11 to study and train in the UK. Zhou initially joined the Ferrari Driver Academy before switching to the Alpine Academy (formerly the Renault Sport Academy) in 2019, when he debuted in Formula 2.

Now in his third season of F2, Zhou has been a title contender since claiming his first feature race win in the first round at Sakhir (Bahrain), along with another feature race victory at Silverstone and a sprint race win at Monte Carlo.

Currently 36 points behind leader Oscar Piastri, who was announced as Alpine’s test driver for next season, second-placed Zhou still has a chance of winning the F2 championship with two rounds remaining. Zhou’s current success comes off the back of a 2020 campaign that he calls “by far the most difficult season for me”. Despite winning the sprint race in Sochi to take his first win in the series, multiple retirements due to mechanical failures only led to a sixth-place finish in the drivers’ standings.

“When you, as a driver, have done everything right, some uncontrollable factors make you lose a lot of points, especially in such an important year or two. It was quite a blow. But now looking back at last year, these difficulties also let me grow up a lot, especially in the psychological aspect and in my self-adjustment,” Zhou noted. “The experience has also helped me to show my strength in the most complete way this year, so it is also a process of growth.”

Just like this year’s Haas pair of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou secured enough Super License points to allow him to progress into F1. “The road to F1 is very difficult, all of which takes a lot of time and effort, which is why I personally feel it might be worth more now than before,” Zhou said. “For Chinese drivers, the process will only be more difficult, because there was no guide to tell me how to choose the best path, so I had to explore all the possibilities with my team.”

–IANS

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