22-year-old to become China's first F1 driver

He will be racing for Alfa Romeo, alongside veteran Valtteri Bottas.

Jean Chien Tay | November 18, 2021, 03:50 PM

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22-year-old Zhou Guanyu is set to become China's first Formula One driver, with his debut for team Alfa Romeo scheduled for 2022.

According to F1, he will be racing alongside veteran driver Valtteri Bottas, who has 10 Grand Prix victories under his belt.

The pair will be replacing the retiring Finnish veteran Kimi Raikkonnen and outgoing Italian racer Antonio Giovinazzi, Reuters reported.

Currently in his third season in Formula Two, Zhou is ranked second in the Formula Two drivers' rankings, and has two more races left to challenge Australian driver Oscar Piastri for the top spot, as per The Guardian.

Zhou's new team, Alfa Romeo, described him as a "trailblazer" in a Nov. 16 statement, and said his 2021 season was a "breakthrough year" for the driver.

Rose through the ranks

According to Chinese Global Television Network, Zhou was born and raised in Shanghai, China.

He started karting at the age of seven, before moving to the UK for a more competitive racing environment, according to Shine.

At the age of 11, he raced in the 2010 Kartmasters British Grand Prix.

Subsequently, he started his racing career in 2015 and came in second at the Italian Formula Four Championship. For context, the Formula Four is a category for junior drivers.

The Chinese racer then climbed the ranks and became the first driver from China to set foot on the Formula Two winners' podium, after finishing third in Barcelona, Spain, in 2019.

Breakthrough for Chinese motorsport industry

“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 reference to his deal with Alfa Romeo.

He added that his achievement marked a "breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history", and he vowed to "become better and achieve more".

Alfa Romeo's team principal Frédéric Vasseur welcomed Zhou to the team, and expressed confidence in his partnership with Bottas in the coming season.

Vasseur added that he was "looking forward to welcoming new Chinese fans", and pledged to make the experience of the sport "a great one" in China.

Meanwhile, F1 President and chief executive officer (CEO) Stefano Domenicalli commended Zhou's talent and said Chinese fans will have a "home hero" to cheer on "all year long".

Not without controversy

However, Zhou's rise to the Formula One racing championship was not without controversy.

Australian news outlets news.com.au and Fox Sports Australia previously reported that the second-ranked Zhou became the frontrunner in securing a Formula One deal as he had a AUD$48 million (S$47.57 million) backing for the 2022 season.

Their reports also highlighted the uncertainty over first-ranked Australian racer Oscar Piastri's chances of joining the Formula One.

In response to the allegations, Alfa Romeo's team principal rubbished the claims, and said it was "pure speculation and bulls***", news.com.au reported.

Meanwhile, F1 announced on Nov. 16 that 20-year-old Piastri has joined another team -- Alpine -- as a reserve driver for the 2022 season.

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