Race Weekend Central

F1 Slipstream Saturday: A Renewed Zhou Guanyu

Alfa Romeo F1 Team has renewed F1 sophomore Zhou Guanyu, ensuring the team, which will be known as Sauber, will bring a Chinese driver to the return of the Chinese Grand Prix in 2024.

Zhou, the first Chinese driver in F1 history, has had a quiet but solid career so far. Outside of a major wreck at the start of the British Grand Prix last year, Zhou has spent much of his time learning next to veteran teammate Valtteri Bottas.

This year, the Alfa Romeo has been slow and unreliable. But Zhou has proven a good match for Bottas in year two, with Zhou losing the qualifying head-to-head by just 9 to 5, far closer than any other mid-pack team’s second driver.

Year three for Zhou will be absolutely vital. There are reports that he doesn’t bring funding to the table currently, if true he’ll have to really show this team and the sport, that’s he capable of returning on the investment they’ve put in. In regard to the sponsorship questions, Zhou has denied any looming trouble.

And the reality is that there are plenty of drivers hungry for that seat currently. Felipe Drugovich, who works for Aston Martin as a test driver, is going to be advocating for a promotion this upcoming offseason.

The 2022 F2 champion wasn’t able to land a seat for 2024, and the reality of the current state of the sport is that sitting on the sidelines for extended periods of time, even a year, can be a major setback. Oscar Piastri and his manager Mark Webber were adamant last year that he get a ride for this current year, as the 2021 F2 champion sat out the next year as the Alpine test driver, and his options were limited after that.

The reality is that a young, perspective F1 driver just can’t afford to spend more than a year in a testing capacity. If they can’t find a ride after that, their options amount to either stay where they are, where they end up lost in the shuffle like Robert Shwartzman at Ferrari, or go to another racing series, a path that’s even more arduous.

Alex Palou can attest to this. The Spaniard had an absolutely phenomenal season in IndyCar, yet couldn’t find a seat in F1. It was enough to where he broke his contract with McLaren simply because he wasn’t going to get an F1 seat out of it.

And then there’s the question of Theo Pourchaire. Pouchaire has years of experience now in junior series despite only turning 20 last month. He’s set to continue as a reserve driver for Sauber next season and holds a 25-point lead in the F2 standings with just one more race weekend remaining. A max of 38 points can be earned in an F2 weekend, making Pouchaire the overwhelming favorite to secure the championship.

Even if Pouchaire loses the F2 championship, there will be tremendous pressure on Zhou to perform next season. And even if Pouchaire then loses out on a 2025 seat with the team, which would be an incredible turn of events considering the level of investment Sauber has put into him, then a new party enters the picture.

Audi will assume control of the team in 2025. A who’s-who list of F1 drivers, ranging from Carlos Sainz to Mick Schumacher to even Sebastian Vettel, have been linked or rumored to be on Audi’s driver candidate chart.

So, needless to say, any relief Zhou may have as far as being re-upped for another year in F1 is probably already out of the window. The best way for the Chinese driver to keep his head above water and in F1 is to outperform Bottas next season. He needs to beat him if there’s any chance of him continuing on in F1, at least with the Sauber squad.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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