Strategy played a key role in the Feature Race at Monte Carlo, with UNI-Virtuosi pairing Felipe Drugovich and Guanyu Zhou finishing third and fifth, having started back in ninth and tenth, thanks to clever calls from their team.

Drugovich made an alternate strategy work, while Zhou opted to run the prime tyres for an extraordinary 37 of the 42 laps. The final of the prime strategy drivers to pit, Zhou had a 15s gap over Pourchaire when he dived in from first, utilizing the overcut over his rivals and eking every last drop from his soft Pirellis.

Drugovich made a late call to start on the option tyres, and Zhou says he very nearly made the same choice. Ultimately deciding against it, the Championship leader believes he could have scored even better had he not gotten stuck in traffic.

“We were thinking about starting on the option as there were less option drivers on the grid,” said Zhou. “But my teammate went for that strategy, so we decided to go for the prime and make them last longer.

“We got held up by (Roy) Nissany and (Christian) Lundgaard a lot. I was behind them, chilling, waiting for my moment. When I got to the front, I was pushing a lot and there was a little bit of a gap, but it was a little bit of a frustrating race in the end to be honest. Even though I am happy with the result, I feel like we could have achieved more.

Zhou made the overcut work in the Feature Race rising from 10th to fifth in a strategic race
Zhou made the overcut work in the Feature Race, rising from 10th to fifth in a strategic race

“It was pretty intense, but I felt good, and everything was under control. We did pretty well to hold onto P5 at the end with cold tyres. We got the fastest lap as well, which was important for the championship.”

The Alpine junior’s P5 finish meant he departed Monaco with a 15-point advantage of Oscar Piastri in the Drivers’ Championship - a gap that could have been higher were it not for some miscommunication on the pit wall in the second Sprint Race.

Running on wet tyres after overnight rain, Virtuosi risked switching both Zhou and Drugovich to slicks with the track beginning to dry. But the surface didn’t dry quickly enough, and they were forced to pull them both back in and revert to wets.

Explaining the miscommunication, Zhou said: “A few laps before the call, I said that the track wasn’t ready for slicks, that it was still too slippery, but then they decided to box me. I think my engineer was chatting in the channel with mechanics, so when I spoke, I was interrupted, and the team didn’t hear me. I think that’s how the call was made.

“I shouldn’t have listened to the radio call to box me, but I was thinking that maybe they knew something that I didn't on the situation. 200% though, that was the wrong decision, and we could have gotten a points’ finish with the retirements in front of me.”

Zhou explained the pistop miscommunication in the second Sprint Race
Zhou explained the pistop miscommunication in the second Sprint Race

Still, the Chinese racer feels there’s plenty he can carry with him as Formula 2 heads to Baku, a different tyre of street track, but another circuit where Zhou is one of very few drivers to have driven F2 machinery around before.

“I have said it before in a few interviews, I am really looking forward to Baku,” continued Zhou. “I know that with the experiences I’ve had in the last two years, I have the potential again to be fighting for victories there.

“Monaco 2019 was one of my toughest rounds in terms of pace, but this year we have seen that I’ve been one of the strongest in races. It’s just that we didn’t maximise everything in qualifying this weekend. I am looking forward to going to Baku; it is a different track to Monaco, but we will be working hard with the team before heading there to get the best setup.”