After the 2020 Formula 2 season finally gets started in Austria, 1 Formula 1 junior will probably confront the most significant effort of the career so far in an effort to get a seat in F1, as FRANKIE MAO clarifies
It was shortly after midnight 11 May at Shanghai when Guanyu Zhou celebrated his maiden victory in the F2 virtual string in the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. It was just 1 year following the Chinese motorist had maintained that the first podium of the debut season in F2 in precisely the exact same venue.
In ancient 2019, when Zhou landed in the rebranded Virtuosi Racing outfit that had formerly worked the Russian Time group, nobody actually knew what to expect from a motorist with 2 wins and three pole positions to his own title out of his three seasons at the FIA Formula 3 European Championship.
However, if battling back to 10th place from the rear of the grid following a brake issue from the Bahrain feature race did not make the credit it deserved, the 21-year-old very first trip to the F2 podium in the Barcelona attribute race – just the third round of this year – prompted observers in the Formula 1 paddock to increase their eyebrows.
Zhou, who combined the Renault Sport Academy before the 2019 year, would later demonstrate that his Barcelona outcome wasn’t a flash in the pan using 2 feature race podiums in Silverstone – in which he maintained pole place – along with Abu Dhabi, bolstered by sprint race podiums in Monaco and Paul Ricard on his way to seventh in the standings.
That brought him the newcomer of the year trophy named in honor of former Renault junior modern Anthoine Hubert. Despite not winning a race, he was ahead of the former F3 team-mate and fellow newcomer Mick Schumacher, that shot a sprint race success in the Hungaroring.
“Though the first win hasn’t arrive yet, I’m happy for my results this past year, particularly once I fought against other senior motorists to the podium,” says Zhou in reviewing his rookie F2 effort.
“I was able to race for podiums from the feature race in contrast to the sprint race, which was my first aim. In fact, almost all of my own podiums were got in the very first race and this past year I was the only rookie standing on podium on Saturday. So, except to get a triumph, it feels wonderful.”
Renault Formula 1 team leader Cyril Abiteboul, that also manages the French producer’s junior programme, was appropriately impressed also.
From each aspect, the progress made collectively with Renault in 2019 looks really promising for Zhou, who’s determined to become the first Chinese F1 race driver in the not too distant future.
“My first aim is to complete the season in the upper three – shirt four will probably be nice – so long as I could find the things I want to get a superlicence. If any opportunity arise, I do not wish to overlook it” Guanyu Zhou
In a media briefing ordered by Renault China before the Chinese New Year, when requested by a veteran journalist when he had confidence in achieving his ultimate aim, Zhou simply smiled and answered in a firm tone:”I really do.”
He added:”I feel nobody else [from China] has attained such results. I left the Chinese national anthem play European F3 earlier and today we’ve observed the Chinese national flag flying in F2. I truly feel proud of it since it reveals what Chinese men and women are capable of.
“I think what really matter is that outcome speaks itself in almost any game. Provided that you’ve got the outcome, folks will understand Chinese [drivers] can succeed in motor racing”
Though the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the beginning of the new F2 year, Zhou – who’ll return with Virtuosi along with Briton Callum Ilott – has emerged prominently in sim racing events, finishing on the podium in four of his five appearances in F1’s Virtual Grand Prix series with Renault and carrying victory in the inaugural Bahrain race.
Zhou admits to spending a few hours on his own simulator each day to replicate the concentration necessary for real-life racing and also sees that the outcomes from the Virtual Grand Prix show as nothing but encouragement prior to the resumption of genuine racing, using a top-four end in F2 sufficient to give him enough points to apply for F1 superlicence.
The vacancy made by Daniel Ricciardo’s move to McLaren for 2021 signifies that this season is much more crucial for Zhou. Since Renault returned to F1 as a works team in 2016, Abiteboul was speaking about creating its future celebrity and at Ricciardo’s present team-mate Esteban Ocon, it’s only that.
But despite the rumours linking large names world champions Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel into the chair, Abiteboul did not eliminate the prospect of picking up a motorist from its junior pool when talking to Autosport within their #thinkingforward series, also stuck into the point a replacement for Ricciardo will not be selected until after the season has begun.
“we would like to find out what is the speed of Guanyu Zhou, what is the speed of [fellow Renault junior and F2 racer] Christian [Lundgaard], their validity. They might be fantastic alternatives,” Abiteboul explained.
“As we talk now, it is somewhat audacious to believe that, but who knows? With one more period of F2 to them, it may be the ideal thing to do. And that is normally the type of thing which we couldn’t determine when the decision needed to quicken Daniel.”
Regardless of Abiteboul’s professed eagerness not rush into a conclusion, Zhou reckons he should keep bringing in his own effort to keep his title in the film.
“My first aim is to complete the season at the upper three – shirt four will probably be nice – so long as I could find the things that I want for a superlicence,” he states. “If any opportunity arise, I do not wish to overlook it.”
Though the worldwide financial implications of this pandemic has increased worries that some F2 drivers will probably fight to find out the season, the area still includes a powerful line-up.
in addition to the coming Schumacher and graduating FIA F3 winner Robert Shwartzman in Prema, 2019 F2 runner-up and Zhou’s former team-mate Luca Ghiotto will direct the assault for the brand new Hitech team. Proven race-winners Louis Deletraz, Jack Aitken and Nobuharu Matsushita will even be glad to mount a title challenge with Charouz, Campos and MP Motorsport respectively.
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Zhou was the best qualifier one of last season’s rookies – his Silverstone rod the sole event qualifying was topped by a rookie annually – and he managed the next two front-row begins at Paul Ricard and Monza respectively. But he understands he’ll need to raise his game if he is to realize his aim, together with more consistent performances at the feature race one of the critical areas he is eager to handle.
“This season I have a greater expectation, since in the event that you would like to complete on a high place in the tournament, you want to concentrate more on the very first race that delivers the complete points” Guanyu Zhou
Round the 11 rounds this past year, Zhou’s average finishing position for attribute races has been 4.8, while for the sprint race it was 6th – but 2 feature race DNFs in Baku and Monza bring down that average.
“At the beginning of this past year, my goal was attempting to struggle for podium at the next [reversed grid] race of town, but my very first podium arrived in the very first race at Barcelona,” he states.
“This season, of course I have a greater expectation, since in the event that you would like to complete on a high place in the championship, then you have to concentrate more on the very first race that delivers the complete points. It’ll be my priority this year.”
Avoiding losing time in midfield bits are just another element he is identified.
“This is a place which I want to improve, which I think I could, together with all the experience gained from this past year,” he states. “It is all about approach when you get trapped in the center.
“If you push too aggressively in the start to attempt and pass the cars ahead, then you will reduce your tyres and price a great deal of time at the next half of this race. So tyre management will be crucial. But I am convinced I could make a second measure.”
Tyre management might be tricky for many drivers with the change to Pirelli’s brand new 18-inch tyres this season, however Zhou is optimistic that the encounter he and fellow second-year motorist Ilott can bring to the table will intrude on the learning curve.
“Since this season tyre has shifted, I am hoping that our staff can adapt to it and also get the very best set up for our automobiles as soon as you can, particularly at the start of the year,” says Zhou. “We’ve got two drivers at our next full-season from the show, which ought to help the team improve together with the classes we learned from this past year.
“The first couple of races are going to have many yearlong evenings. If we can manage to acquire a fantastic set up to catch as many things as possible, together with all the expertise as our benefits, it is going to create the next half of this season simpler.
“I expect the car can do anything I need, and also we could have great outcomes.”
As opportunities favour the ready mind, if Zhou will manage to tick off most of the boxes, then the child himself and the country behind will probably be one step closer to fulfilling the dream that they share.