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2021-11-17 11:10:00

Zhou Guanyu is set to become the first-ever Chinese driver to compete in Formula One auto racing after being selected to race for the Switzerland-based Alfa Romeo in the 2022 season.

The 22-year-old will replace the Italian Antonio Giovinazzi, who will leave the team at the end of 2021, Alfa Romeo announced Tuesday. Zhou will debut as the team’s full-time driver, alongside the world number three Valtteri Bottas from Finland, at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“The first-ever Formula One race driver from China, Zhou is a trailblazer who will write a pivotal page of his country’s motorsport history,” Alfa Romeo said.

Born and raised in Shanghai, Zhou took up karting at the age of seven. He left to train in the United Kingdom in 2010 due to limited resources for cultivating professional race drivers in China.

“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,” Zhou said in the statement announcing his contract.

The news was met with excitement among China’s motorsports fans amid a third cancelation of the Chinese Grand Prix next year due to the pandemic. Fans have taken to Weibo to congratulate Zhou, with the racer’s name trending on the microblogging platform.

“I have been an F1 fan for more than 10 years, now I can finally see Chinese people participating in the race,” one Weibo user said.

Zhou started his single-seater career in 2015 when he competed, and finished second, in the Italian F4 that year. He is currently ranked second in the 2021 F2 Championship, trailing Australian Oscar Piastri, with the potential to clinch this year’s title following two more races in December.

Prior to Zhou, Chinese racer Ma Qinghua was hired by the Spanish HRT F1 Team for the 2013 season. However, he missed the race after the team failed to pay the participation deposit due to financial woes at the time, according to media reports.

Zhou’s signing by Alfa Romeo has renewed hopes for the country’s F1 prospects, which started with the Shanghai International Circuit in 2004. The following year, 6-year-old Zhou was photographed waving a flag while attending his first F1 race.

“The birth of such a local superstar will definitely draw more attention to F1,” Yang Yibin, a member of F1 Chinese Grand Prix operators, told Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper. “This undoubtedly has played a very positive role in the development of motorsports in China.”

Meanwhile, Zhou said he is well-prepared for the challenge ahead, with his dream now becoming a reality.

“To be the first-ever Chinese driver in Formula 1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history,” he said. “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.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Zhou Guanyu celebrates his victory during the 4th round of the 2021 FIA Formula 2 Championship, on the Silverstone Circuit, in Silverstone, United Kingdom, July 18, 2021. People Visual)