After almost three seasons of Formula 2, Guanyu Zhou has been awarded the chance to showcase his talents on the grandest of stages, following the announcement that he will step up to Formula 1 with Alfa Romeo in 2022.
With 18 podiums, four wins and three poles so far, Zhou ranks amongst the most impressive drivers to have graced the second tier and sits fourth for points scored overall.
We take a look at five pivotal moments on his journey from F2.
MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF AT AN F1 GRAND PRIX
After moving from Shanghai in China to Sheffield in the North of England to chase his F1 dream before he was even a teenager, little was likely to unsettle Zhou, but racing on a Grand Prix weekend certainly had the potential.
Yet the Chinese star seemed utterly unfazed by it. Stepping up on the back of a solid but unassuming European F3 campaign with PREMA Racing, where he finished eighth, his style of racing seemed much more suited to the faster, more powerful F2 machinery.
One of just two rookies to take points in both races of the opening weekend in 2019 – the other being Mick Schumacher – Zhou only had to wait until Round 3 to secure his first podium, taking third in the Barcelona Sprint Race.
Two more P3s followed before a superb pole at Silverstone, which was made all the more impressive by Zhou’s admission that it was “the one time I didn't expect to be on pole,” due to the number of high-speed corners at the track – a weakness that he’s worked hard to get on top of.
WINNING THE ANTHOINE HUBERT AWARD
That Zhou eventually finished in seventh does something of a disservice to his rookie season. He spent the majority of the year holding his own as part of an experienced top five.
Taking one pole and five podiums, Zhou was a more consistent points scorer than four of the six drivers above him, missing out on the points just four times in total. Only Champion Nyck de Vries and runner-up Nicholas Latifi boasted a better record that year.
His rich consistency made him a worthy first recipient of the Anthoine Hubert Award for best rookie. The trophy was created to honour the late Frenchman, a fellow Renault Academy member and close friend of Zhou’s.
Beating the likes of Schumacher, Callum Ilott and Nikita Mazepin to the award, a title challenge was expected to follow in 2020…
HIS FIRST F2 VICTORY
Like his start to life in F2, Zhou initially seemed to take the favourites tag in his stride, securing pole in the season opener at Sakhir in 2020, but mechanical issues in the Feature Race robbed him of points in both races and he departed Round 1 with a zero next to his name.
It didn’t get much better either….
Apart from P3 in the Round 2 Feature Race, his start to the season was trying. By the time the grid arrived in Silverstone, he was in eighth, 50 points adrift of then-leader Robert Shwartzman. Things weren’t going to plan.
He suffered more pointless finishes than podiums in the following six rounds and was still searching for his first win in Round 10 at Sochi. It’s no surprise that he’s since labelled the period as “one of the toughest” of his racing career so far.
Something just wasn’t clicking and the fact he was still without a win was clearly weighing heavy on his mind.
It may not have happened as he envisaged, but with three rounds to go, Zhou was finally relieved of that burden in the Sochi Sprint Race. A nasty collision between Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken ended the race early and meant the Chinese driver only came away with half points, but that didn’t change its significance. He was determined to use it as a springboard.
Hailing the victory as a “huge release,” ahead of a two-month break, the Chinese driver went away, switched off, and started fresh in the final two rounds.
LEADING THE FORMULA 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
Three top-five finishes from the last four races, including P2 in the final Feature Race of the 2020 season suggested Zhou had turned a corner and meant he ended the campaign on a much more positive note than he begun it.
Zhou felt he’d gotten enough of a break during the gap between Rounds 10 and 11 and so used the off-season as a chance to retain the momentum he’d gained, entering and winning the Asian F3 Championship. It appeared to pay off as he started the new F2 season in sensational form, taking pole, his first Feature Race win and a further podium in the second Sprint.
As much as his first win released the pressure valve, winning the Feature Race - and securing full points - meant a lot more. The Chinese racer departed the opening round of 2021 first in the Championship, bursting with confidence.
A second win followed in the next race, as did a fourth podium in Round 3. He was entering race weekends with an air of authority that hadn’t previously been seen in him.
A run of four pointless races appeared to do little to dent his confidence, nor did losing the championship lead to Oscar Piastri. Since then, he’s taken five top 10 finishes in a row, including a win and two podiums.
He’s currently 36 points off his fellow Alpine Academy teammate, entering the business end of the season. And with his immediate future in F1 wrapped up, he can go into the final two rounds with his focus fully on the title fight.
MAKING HIS FP1 DEBUT WITH ALPINE
Guanyu Zhou’s FP1 debut was a sizeable moment for both the driver and the sport, with the 22-year-old becoming the first Chinese driver to run in an official F1 session for eight years, and only the second from mainland China.
For Zhou, as significant a milestone as it was, it was one big tick off a much bigger checklist.
Finishing 14th in Fernando Alonso’s car, he impressed Alpine with not just his speed, but his input as well. He also made a fan of the two-time world champion, who hailed that the junior “executed FP1 perfectly.”
That Alonso was his childhood hero made the outing that bit more special. Ahead of the session, Zhou had shared a poignant image on social media of himself waving an Alonso flag at the 2005 Chinese Grand Prix.
So excited was the motorsport contingent of China to see Zhou in an F1 car, he claimed that many were sat there purely watching his on-board for the entirety of the session. And now, with a full-time seat confirmed, they’ll get to soak up a whole lot more on-board action from him…