Alfa Romeo have announced that UNI-Virtuosi title contender Guanyu Zhou will drive for the team in the 2022 Formula 1 season, making him the ninth graduate in just five seasons.
Replacing Antonio Giovinazzi, the 22-year-old will partner current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas at the Italian side and become F1’s first ever Chinese driver.
He makes the step up after three years in Formula 2, with his debut coming back in the 2019 campaign. Zhou shone in his rookie season, emerging as the highest placed rookie on a grid packed full of experienced talent, finishing seventh overall.
Expected to challenge for the title in his second season, Zhou struggled initially, with just one podium in the opening three rounds, but the Chinese star turned his form around and went on to score points in six of the last seven races, including a victory in the Sochi Sprint Race and a podium in the Sakhir Feature.
This set him up nicely for a championship challenge in 2021, taking three podiums, including two wins, from the first four races and leading the standings until Round 4 in Silverstone.
Currently trailing fellow Alpine junior Oscar Piastri by 36 points, Zhou has a win and two further podiums in the last five races, with two rounds remaining.
"I dreamt 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," said Zhou. "It is a privilege for me to start my Formula 1 racing career with an iconic team, a team that has introduced so much young talent into Formula 1 in the past. Now the dream is reality.
"I feel well prepared for the immense challenge of Formula 1, the pinnacle of my sport, alongside a proven, world-class talent in Valtteri Bottas. I wish to thank the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN team for this opportunity. Next year the target will be to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible. 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.”
Zhou’s single-seater career started in Italian Formula 4, where he took second in his rookie season. As well as also competing in the likes of ADAC F4, European F3, the Toyota Racing Series, he won this year’s Asian F3.
The Chinese driver made his F1 debut at the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix, driving in place of Fernando Alonso for Alpine in FP1. The stint in the A521 made him just the second driver from mainland China to take part in an official F1 session, and the first in eight years.
He’ll join former rivals F2 rivals Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin on the 2022 grid.
Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur said: “It is a pleasure to welcome Guanyu Zhou to Alfa Romeo Racing. He is a very talented driver, as his results in F2 have shown, and we are looking forward to helping his talent flourish even more in Formula 1.
"We are proud of our line-up for 2022 and we are confident Zhou will form a very successful partnership with Valtteri. We are also looking forward to welcoming all the new Chinese fans who will join the team: Alfa Romeo Racing is a historical brand and one that embodies the spirit of Formula 1 and we will do our utmost to make the experience of our sport a great one in China.”