Championship leader Guanyu Zhou will be rewarded for his early-season form with his first official run in a Formula 1 session, after Alpine announced that their academy star will take control of the A521 for FP1 in Spielberg this weekend.

Zhou is the team’s official Test Driver and will sub-in for Fernando Alonso, becoming just the second Chinese driver, and the first in eight years, to run in an official Formula 1 session.

The UNI-Virtuosi racer is leading the standings after scoring four podiums, including two wins, from the three rounds so far.

“Driving in FP1 at a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend is like a dream coming true and another step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a Formula 1 driver,” said Zhou. “It’s going to be a very special moment.

“I’m preparing myself as much as I can to be ready and also ensure that I’m able to complete all the targets and plans that the team have set me to do. There have not been many Chinese drivers in Formula 1, so to be behind the wheel of an F1 car during a race weekend is going to be a very proud feeling.

Photograph copyright Alpine F1 Team
Photograph copyright: Alpine F1 Team

“It’s going to be even more special that I’m driving Fernando’s car as he inspired me to pursue a career in racing when I was young. I’m very happy with my achievements so far and I’m very thankful for the support I have from those around me. My aim is to maximize this opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it.”

A member of Alpine’s driver programme since 2019, before graduating to the role of test driver, Zhou is in his third season of F2. Taking the Anthoine Hubert Award for top rookie in his first year, Zhou went on to score a maiden win in 2020 on his way to sixth in the standings.

The 22-year-old’s Sprint Race win in Sochi made him the first mainland Chinese driver to win an international single-seater race.

Photograph copyright Alpine F1 Team
Photograph copyright: Alpine F1 Team

Chief Executive Officer Laurent Rossi added: “The challenge for young drivers to get into F1 is incredibly hard, and we are proud to support upcoming talent on this road.

“In his role as Test Driver Guanyu has participated in test and simulator sessions, so running a free practice in a current car is a logical and important step for one of the Academy’s brightest stars. This experience will greatly help him as he makes very solid progress towards the ultimate target that constitutes a full-time F1 seat.”

Alpine Academy Director Mia Sharizman said: “I am delighted to see Zhou’s development and progress from when he first set foot in the Academy in 2019 to having his first official FP1 session this weekend at the Austrian Grand Prix in Formula 1.

“It has been a long but rewarding process with Zhou putting the hard work in behind the scenes to get to this point in his career. The fact that he is now leading the Formula 2 Championship is proof of this hard work and dedication and we are all looking forward to seeing him in a Formula 1 car this weekend.”