Guanyu Zhou aiming for F1 could buck the trend of his compatriots. The number of Chinese racing drivers that have made it onto the international stage is a small but growing one. And as the number of drivers creeps up so too does the sporting potential of those drivers. Guanyu Zhou is the pinnacle of Chinese racing talent to date and could well be the first to make it to F1.
Guanyu Zhou: Early Years and Karting
Hailing from Shanghai, Zhou began karting in China at the age of 8 in 2007. Five years later he moved to the UK in order to progress his racing career. Competing in Rotax karts in 2013 and 2014, Zhou was a consistent winner. Branching out into European and World championship rounds in 2014, it was clear that Zhou was ready to progress to a career in cars.
Zhou becomes a Ferrari Academy Driver in F4 and F3
Ferrari announced Zhou as an FDA member for 2015. Subsequently, Zhou was unveiled as a Prema driver competing in Italian F4. With a hat trick of wins at Monza and consistent podiums, Zhou would finish the season runner up. The Ferrari and Prema combination proving its worth again.
Motopark signed Zhou to compete in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship (now known as Formula Regional European Championship) in 2016. The season started well enough, but Zhou struggled later in the year ultimately finishing 13th. A second season with Prema saw some improvement but wins still eluded the young Chinese driver.
Finally, a breakthrough win came at Pau in his third season of F3. Staying with Prema, Guanyu Zhou began that 2018 season with a sweet victory in the French southwest. A title challenge appeared to be on the cards but 4 retirements in a row saw him slump to 8th in the standings. The Pau win was to be his sole triumph up until the final race weekend when Zhou bookended his season with another P1 at Hockenheim. The FDA would release Zhou at the end of the year despite this being his most competitive F3 season yet.
Joining F2 as a Renault Academy Driver
UNI-Virtuosi signed Zhou in December 2018 to compete in FIA F2 for 2019. Ferrari may have said goodbye but Renault welcomed Zhou at the beginning of 2019. While Zhou was showing plenty of pace with multiple podiums and becoming the first Chinese pole sitter in F2, wins eluded him. F2’s Pirelli tyres are notorious for their punishing degradation, and learning how to maximise them is critical to success in the series. Especially as F1’s tyres are very similar in construction and performance. Zhou’s struggles then were unsurprising and 7th in the final standings and rookie of the year was still impressive.
Callum Ilott was paired with Zhou for 2020. The expectation that both drivers would be competing for the title in their sophomore season was clear. Zhou started brightly enough with pole at the opening race but an electrical failure took him from the lead to finish 17th. That sadly seemed to end Zhou’s front running credentials as he failed to make the expected step forward in performance. Five podiums and a first win at the red flagged Sochi feature race saw him finish 6th overall. But his team mate finished 2nd and 50 points ahead.
2021 will see Zhou competing in the F3 Asia championship prior to returning for a third season in F2, again with UNI-Virtuosi.
Guanyu Zhou: GP Grandstand F1 Seat Prediction
We’ve spoken before on this site about a driver being signed to a second F1 Academy if they leave their first one. It’s a strong indicator of universally recognised talent in our opinion. Make no mistake here too, Zhou is definitely talented and a very exciting prospect. But if Zhou is to realise his full potential, he has to be a title contender in 2021’s F2 season.
That Zhou felt the need to step down two levels to compete in F3 Asia before the season is slightly puzzling and alarming. Either he doesn’t see himself as a contender so is farming easy Super License points in the worst case. Or he is using the additional races to hone his race craft and skill prior to a critical season. Let’s hope it is the latter. Of course he should comfortably dominate F3 Asia anyway so perhaps won’t see much wheel to wheel action anyway.
Renault were sharply critical of their junior drivers at the end of 2020. The view was that the season was one of missed opportunity and under performance. Let’s hope that Zhou can raise his game and meet that challenge head on.