Written by Joss Ryan, Edited by Umut Yelbaşı
I’d like to start by congratulating Zhou on becoming China’s first Formula 1 driver, and I think competing in Formula 1 will be amazing for the sport in China. I would also like to add that my aim is not to discredit any of Zhou’s previous motorsport achievements but to bring them to light in a time where people are doubting whether he earned his place in the pinnacle of motorsport, F1.
It is not a secret that since the Chinese GP was added to the calendar in 2004, there has been a big push for a Chinese driver to join the grid. So, when Zhou was signed to the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2014 during his karting career, there were many that hoped for him to perform well. His junior career unquestionably had its highs and lows so this led to the vast majority of fans speculating about whether he would make it to F1.
His debut season in Formula 4 was good although it did not live up to Lance Stroll’s debut season championship win, who himself was a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. Zhou finished the championship in second place. However, this grid wasn’t filled with a huge amount of talent with the exception of current McLaren driver, Lando Norris.
Zhou spent three years in the European F3 series in which his performance mostly went unnoticed. This series did produce three champions that you’ll be familiar with: Mick Schumacher, Lando Norris, and Lance Stroll. During his time there Zhou only managed to score one win which simply isn’t good enough for someone with aspirations to reach F1. But Zhou was fortunate enough to have funding which allowed him to join the Renault Driver Academy and to get promoted to Formula 2 in 2019.
Lucky enough for Zhou, he had an impressive start to his F2 career. He was the highest finishing rookie in the 2019 season. Again, it wasn’t F2’s most competitive grid, although he did finish higher than Callum Ilott and Mick Schumacher. Zhou proved his ability to adapt quickly to F2’s naturally aspirated V6 engines and Pirelli tyres, which were significantly different to what he was familiar with in F3.
In 2021, Zhou had his best F2 season where he finished 3rd in the standings and showed he was a very capable driver by outscoring his teammate, Felipe Drugovich. Zhou also showed he was able to handle tricky situations including a stuck throttle at Baku and multiple spins. However, once again, he was left in the shadows of his rivals, most notably Oscar Piastri who claimed the 2021 F2 title after showing an immense amount of talent.
Zhou's résumé is one that shows he has the suitable experience to drive in F1. But to Zhou’s disadvantage, it's hard not to single out drivers with better results to show, who it could be argued deserve the Alfa Romeo seat over him. I really hope Zhou can make the most of the opportunity he has and prove his critics wrong this year.
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