Zhou Guanyu believes Fernando Alonso is the best driver he has ever raced against in Formula 1, citing him as one of his childhood idols.
The Shanghai native, who drove Alonso’s car during an FP1 session prior to the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix for Alpine, was photographed supporting the Spaniard when attending the Chinese GP as a young fan.
‘‘For me, Fernando Alonso,’’ admitted Zhou when asked by Total Motorsport.com as to who was the best driver on the grid. ‘‘It’s clear that will be my choice because he was my racing idol since I was a young kid.
‘‘My first race [which I attended] was in Shanghai [in] 2004. He was there, and then [he started] winning races the next two years. I watched him holding his flag, so I’ve been a big fan of him.
‘‘I never expected to be racing with my childhood idol 10-15 years later, so that’s an achievement. When he has a very strong car, he can put it at the front.’’
F1’s popularity in China
Zhou’s arrival in the sport has made F1 an overnight sensation in China, with television viewing figures increasing over the past few years.
It marked a rapid change of fortunes from a decade ago when F1 was losing popularity in the country, causing a decline in television viewership.
‘‘It’s been quite massive,’’ said Zhou. I know we haven’t got a GP yet, since I arrived in F1. So I was impressed with the audience we had between the first race last year, to now.
‘‘It’s nice seeing people my age or younger loving motorsports, [it’s] nice to see this trend going in a positive direction.
‘‘Now motorsports is a priority sport when five-ten years ago it was unpopular, so it’s important for us to have a driver in F1 to get them watching the race.’’
Fully focused on F1 survival
Despite’s Zhou’s progress and local media reporting his F1 debut was watched by 250 million of his compatriots, a GP hasn’t been hosted on Chinese shores for four years.
F1 was supposed to return in April 2023, but following difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Liberty Media dropped the Chinese GP from the calendar putting the race’s future at risk.
‘‘I will be a little bit disappointed,’’ admitted Zhou. ‘‘I’m not going to think about all these negatives. The most important thing is improving myself [and securing] a contract extension.
‘‘We will see you know if, in the case, it goes [ahead] or not. But I just want to stay in F1, and then if I do well here, a home race [would be a bonus].’’