Championship leader Guanyu Zhou hailed his official Formula 1 debut as “amazing,” after finishing less than half a second off Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in FP1 at Spielberg.
Running in place of Fernando Alonso, Zhou ended the session ahead of former World Champion Sebastian Vettel in 14th.
The UNI-Virtuosi racer is Alpine’s official reserve driver and was one of nine drivers in today’s F1 session to have competed in Formula 2, joining 2020 teammate Callum Ilott and current rival F2 Roy Nissany, the duo stepping in for FP1 at Alfa Romeo and Williams, respectively.
Speaking after the session, Zhou said he had been mulling over the data with Ocon and was pleased with his performances in the A521.
“I used my first set of tyres to get into a rhythm, and from the second set I was able to explore myself as much as I wanted to,” said Zhou. “It was not a perfect lap – I locked up in a few parts – but in the end, I’m happy with the lap time.
“I went through all the lap times with Esteban and think we were actually quite similar. Less than two tenths on the same compound tyres. I’m happy with how it went and I definitely proved myself here, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in the background and to keep improving more in the future.
“At the end, we were actually quite fast with the medium tyres and the team was really happy with the job we’ve done. We actually did a lot rather than just focus on the lap time. We were mainly focused on getting the new set-up changed to help the team. And the lap time was also there, so that’s another thing less to worry about. Now we really just focus on the future and what more I can bring to the team.”
Becoming just the second Chinese driver to ever run in an official F1 session, and the first in eight years, the experience will go down as a historic milestone in the 22-year-old’s fledgling career.
Zhou has previously tested older spec versions of the Alpine machinery, including on the streets of Shanghai ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix in 2019, but his outing in Austria was arguably his greatest opportunity to impress yet.
“I’m really thankful for this opportunity - the team believing in me stepping into Fernando’s car,” Zhou continued. “I had to take care of it, but I was also pushing as much as I could to show my full potential.
“When I jumped out of the car Davide (Brivio, Racing Director) was there shaking my hand. In the debrief we went through all the stuff we need to go through and at the end Alan (Permane, Sporting Director) also said ‘really well done’ to me. So, I’m really pleased how everyone congratulated me and I’m just going to keep working the way I am now and try to keep impressing people."