Born in Shanghai in 1999, Zhou Guanyu began karting when he was seven and quickly developed a love for speed. To nurture his talent, his father, a business tycoon, built a karting track (named after his son: Guanyu Automobile Park) in Weifang in Shandong province, so his son could practice karting.
Zhou started racing competitively in 2008, participating in the China Karting Championship, where he held the record of having eight wins from eight races in the NCJ-B category of the event. He later moved to Europe to continue his training, becoming the first driver to join the Ferrari Driver Academy. Last year, he came third in the Formula Two (F2) championship.
Why is he in the news?
Last weekend in Bahrain, the 23 year-old made his Formula One debut with the Alfa Romeo team, which also signed former Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. Zhou delivered a strong performance, starting the race in 15th place and ending up in position 10. During an enthralling performance, he delivered a string of overtaking moves (including passing seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton). In a rare outcome for an F1 debutant he won a point in his first outing. He also made history as the first Chinese driver to take part in a Grand Prix.
“The race was tense. I had problems in the first corner, but then I realised I had to try my best to get into the top 10. Today will be an unforgettable moment for me, I’ll enjoy this moment. But we’ll be focusing on [the next race in] Saudi Arabia soon. We want to win more races,” he told reporters.
Many in the Chinese media were quick to celebrate his success. The China Daily called Zhou “sensational” and his performance “impressive”. Other domestic media ran lengthy profiles of the driver.
The China factor
Nevertheless, Zhou is a controversial choice for Alfa Romeo. Formula Two champion Oscar Piastri didn’t secure a race seat this year and critics believed that Zhou was able to compete in F1 because his family has brought nearly Rmb200 million ($31 million) in corporate sponsorships to the Alfa Romeo team. With Zhou’s successful debut, of course, Alfa Romeo can now count on higher awareness in the lucrative China market.
“I always said that I deserve to be here and today I think I showed everything,” Zhou insisted after the race in Bahrain.
According to domestic media reports, Zhou’s father Zhou Wenfan is a low-profile businessman with more than 15 holding companies listed under his name, four of which are named after his son, including a number of car dealerships and sports firms. In 2017, an industry ranking revealed that Guanyu Automobile, a car distributor, reached Rmb3.2 billion in sales.
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