Alfa Romeo team manager Beat Zehnder has been pleasantly surprised with the performances of rookie Zhou Guanyu so far this year.
Zhou won four races in Formula 2 in 2021 before securing a move to the Swiss side ahead of this season, and he managed points on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
He went another eight races without finishing in the top 10, and was out-qualified by team-mate Valtteri Bottas in all of the first seven rounds of the year, but he qualified ahead of the experienced Finn in Baku before retiring from the race due to a reliability issue.
The 23-year-old started the Canadian Grand Prix in front two after making Q3 for the first time this season, and scored points for the second time in his career despite falling behind Bottas due to a Safety Car.
The Sauber Group has welcomed multiple talented rookies into their ranks over the years, including Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.
One of the key differences Zehnder sees in Zhou is that, in general, he has remained very incident-free.
“Normally with rookies, you always have to reckon with one or two crashes but Zhou makes practically no mistakes,” he said.
“Experience tells us that there has to be a crash at some point, but that’s also part of the learning process.”
Zhou does not currently have a contract for the 2023 season but, particularly of late, his performance may have been enough to secure him a drive for next year.
“He’s definitely one of the best rookies we’ve ever had in our team,” said Zehnder.
Zhou has often been solid in race weekends this season before watching his pace fall away later in the race.
The young Chinese driver suffered non-finishes in Spain and Baku prior to his points in Montreal, so he hopes to build on the consistent weekend and get some more satisfactory results.
“It’s a big redemption we finally were able to achieve in Montreal,” Zhou told Lawrence Barretto ahead of the British Grand Prix this weekend.
“I finally got to see the chequered flag as well as showing our full potential the whole weekend.
“I think there’s been many weekends where we had ups but also finished with downs in Sunday’s race so finally inverted that to having a strong Saturday qualifying and also a best finish so far in F1 for me.
“So, for me it’s a lot of motivation going forward because obviously there was a lot of frustration before that when you keep getting DNFs.
“As a rookie, when you build up your pace but you couldn’t show it on Sunday is always hurting but now, yeah we’re in a good way and I feel like… keep going the way I am and we have much more potential coming.”
The nine points finishes achieved by Zhou and Bottas combined in 2022 leave the Swiss team sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, six points behind fifth-placed Alpine.