China's Zhou to make FP1 debut

Alpine Academy's Zhou Guanyu posing with the Renault - now known as Alpine - F1 car in 2019. The 22-year-old is top of the F2 drivers' standings after three rounds and wants to be China's first F1 driver.
Alpine Academy's Zhou Guanyu posing with the Renault - now known as Alpine - F1 car in 2019. The 22-year-old is top of the F2 drivers' standings after three rounds and wants to be China's first F1 driver.PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ZHOU GUANYU

SHANGHAI • Zhou Guanyu will take a major step towards becoming the first full-time Chinese driver in Formula One after the Alpine team announced he will take part in practice at this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix, the second of back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring circuit.

The 22-year-old from Shanghai, who tops the F2 standings for Uni-Virtuosi Racing, will borrow the car of Spain's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso for the first free practice session (FP1) on Friday.

Zhou, who is already a test driver for Alpine and is from their academy, called his first time behind the wheel in F1 practice "a dream coming true".

Also known as Joe, he went to school in Britain after moving from China in 2012.

He said: "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."

He follows in the footsteps of compatriot Ma Qinghua, who drove in several practice sessions in 2012-2013 with the HRT and Caterham teams, but failed to secure a full-time seat in the sport.

Alpine's chief executive Laurent Rossi called it "an important step" in Zhou's promising career.

"This experience will greatly help him as he makes very solid progress towards the ultimate target that constitutes a full-time F1 seat," said Rossi.

Zhou, who as a little boy played with toy cars and was involved in karting at a young age, has never made any secret of his determination to race in F1 and make history for his country.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse earlier this year, he said: "I would say definitely I'm the closest ever to get into Formula One as a Chinese driver. But the last step is the hardest."

Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda is the only Asian driver in F1 this season, having been picked up by AlphaTauri after finishing third in F2 last term.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2021, with the headline 'China's Zhou to make FP1 debut'. Subscribe