Zhou Guanyu claimed ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 2022, of course, with Zhou having been the only rookie driver on the grid last season!
Given that he was the only Formula 1 newbie last year, the Formula 2 graduate performed impeccably for Alfa Romeo, and certainly gained a new wave of fans.
By joining Alfa Romeo at the start of 2022, Zhou became China’s first ever F1 driver, a feat that the 23-year-old is understandably very proud of.
He performed incredibly on-track last season and fully deserved to be given a contract extension for 2023 with Alfa Romeo, as Zhou will likely build on everything he learnt in 2022.
One thing he sadly learnt, though, was that he’d receive “hate for no reason”, with the Chinese driver having been targeted by keyboard warriors during his rookie campaign.
“The people in the paddock were always OK,” he told The Race.
“It’s more on the outside, the fans on the internet, the keyboard writers, they are being a bit harsh or unfair.
“It’s not something I expected, where you reach your dream and then you get all this hate for no reason.
“It’s great to use this season to kind of just change my picture around a little bit, let people know me better.”
Zhou found that those who targeted him hadn’t followed his road to F1, with many having seen him as an easy target due to his nationality.
Non-European drivers feeling like they’re treated differently is sadly nothing new, with Sergio Pérez having said in the past that he doesn’t feel like he’s taken, seriously due to his nationality.
Zhou completely agrees with the Mexican driver, who thinks it’s “twice as worse” for him due to him being the only Chinese driver to have raced in F1.
“Yeah, it’s true. Let’s say it, to be quite open, it’s definitely true.
“I read what Checo said. If you’re a Chinese driver it’s even worse, probably twice as worse than what’s affected Mexican drivers!
“I’ve lived in this kind of situation many times in my career. I’m used to how to get rid of all this unnecessary attention, to just focus purely on the job.
“When this happens the only way I try to deal with it is to keep it quiet, just to do the things on track, do the job, which is the most efficient way.
“But it’s still quite unfair or bad to see how people are still judged by all nationalities. It’s definitely not the way we should go forward.”
The Alfa Romeo driver certainly proved several doubters wrong at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, as Zhou famously claimed a points finish on his debut.
Given how difficult Zhou’s path to F1 was, as it is for virtually all non-European drivers, the Shanghai-born driver was understandably “very emotional” after crossing the line at the Bahrain International Circuit, with his journey to the pinnacle of motorsport having been “lonely”.
“I was in tears because it was very emotional what happened,” Zhou said.
“Before the race, I was very nervous because you don’t think the first race is exciting. It was just nervous, intense.
“But I finished in the points, and it’s kind of just a huge achievement for my side. It’s quite crazy how this journey has been. Because it’s not been a smooth journey.
“From karting onwards, I had to fight my way through. You can’t just go to F2, or F3, and expect to be in F1 without showing your results. I had to work my way from outside the top 10 and then to be fighting for a championship in every series.
“It’s quite impressive. [And doing this] with a different culture, different city and country you live, you have a lonely time, just because you don’t know that area or people.
“You have to just make your friends and get to know how to live there.”