Finishing as the highest placed rookie of 2019, big things were expected of Guanyu Zhou this season, but frustratingly for him, it hasn’t quite played out as the UNI-Virtuosi driver would have liked.
Watching on as his teammate Callum Ilott battles with Mick Schumacher for the title, the Renault junior can still mathematically fight for the crown, but would have expected to be in a stronger position at this point of the season, given the promise he showed last year.
Sitting eighth in the standings, directly ahead of his 2020 teammate Luca Ghiotto, we assess Zhou’s chances of a late charge towards the crown.
A MAIDEN VICTORY
For all of his success in 2019, Zhou remained without a win, despite scoring five podium finishes and a pole position. The UNI-Virtuosi man was desperate to break his duct in 2020 and finally managed it last time out in Sochi, albeit in unusual circumstances.
Starting from reverse grid pole in the Sprint Race, Zhou looked calm and controlled off the line, retaining first place in the opening laps. However, a collision between Ghiotto and Jack Aitken on Lap 7 ended the race early. Both men walked away safely, but the scale of repairs needed meant that the decision was taken not to restart the race.
With more than 25% of the 21 laps left to run, Zhou may have only walked away with half points, but the Chinese driver was a worthy race winner, and it was clearly an important moment for him.
Follow that up with solid performances in the final two rounds, and he could be in with a shout of the top five, at least.
2020 hasn’t been an awful campaign for Zhou, given he is technically still in title contention and has the same number of podiums at this stage of the season, as he did last year. It’s just that he hasn’t hit the lofty heights that were expected of him.
His strength in 2019 was arguably his consistency, scoring points in all bar four races. That tally has already been eclipsed in 2020, with six pointless finishes to his name.
If he is to stand any chance of breaking into the top five, or even making a late assault on the title, then he has to ensure that number doesn’t increase. Sitting just over 20 points off fifth place, and less than 30 off third, it’s most definitely doable.
FROM THE GRID
"I had my first win in the last race in Sochi and this is definitely some good motivation for me ahead of the final two rounds,” said Zhou. “It was a boost for me to finally achieve that goal.
“The last two rounds, because of where I am in the Championship, will just be maximum attack. I will not think too much about where I am in the standings, I want to enjoy the last two races because it has been a pretty tough season. Hopefully, I can finish the season on a high.
“Testing the R.S.18 for Renault on the Bahrain International Circuit during the break definitely helped me to get used to the circuit and I am very excited to get back racing again.
"Me and Callum (Ilott) have been two of the quickest guys on track and we have put in a lot of effort and gotten some good results. The team have helped us a lot and it has been a tight season. We finished P2 with Luca (Ghiotto) last season and this year, as a team, we want to win the teams' title. I think that me and Callum have been clean and fair this year and I think we can put a good show on in Bahrain to fight it out with PREMA."