Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu appreciates the affectionate welcome to Formula 1 he received from the other drivers on the grid when he arrived at the start of this year.
The young racer is the first-ever F1 driver from China, and he got his move after winning four races in Formula 2 last year for Virtuosi as an Alpine Academy driver.
In the role that extended back to the team’s Renault days, Zhou has made a strong acquaintance with Fernando Alonso and now McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo, but he has developed a good rapport with everyone on the grid this season.
“I know Alonso and Ricciardo for a long time because we were basically in the same team in the past and I was an Academy driver,” he told the Beyond the Grid Podcast.
“People like Sebastian [Vettel] or [Sir] Lewis [Hamilton], there’s some people I’ve never spoken to in the past.
“Everyone’s been quite warm and welcoming, especially in Bahrain, the first time everyone gets to see each other and have a chat with all the drivers.
“It’s cool to have these people around still because I didn’t expect to be racing with some of the very experienced drivers.
“I remember the first race I watched they were there racing and they’re still here racing! It’s a special feeling, and I really enjoy the on-track battle together.”
Zhou was only a one-year-old when Alonso made his debut with Minardi in 2001 and, when he got old enough to understand what Formula 1 is, he fell in love with the Spaniard’s racing ability.
“That was in 2004,” added the 23-year-old.
“That day, I didn’t know anything about motorsports. I was just there as a fan in general. I saw his race, and I thought he was a very good driver.
“I had that dream in my mind that, one day, I could be a Formula 1 driver.
“The second year, when the Chinese Grand Prix happened, I was more understanding of motorsports and I was holding his flag. Everybody saw that picture on social media.”
Zhou scored a point in Bahrain at the start of the season, and had been out-qualified by team-mate Valtteri Bottas in all of the first seven races of the season.
However, he seems to have found his feet after a tough few rounds, out-qualifying the Finn in each of the last two weekends in Baku and Montreal.
He was set to beat the 32-year-old in those races but for a reliability failure in Azerbaijan and some strategical misfortune in Canada.
Zhou finished in the top 10 for the second time this season in Canada last weekend, and he has, at times, found himself battling the Alpines of Alonso and Esteban Ocon.
Racing the now 40-year-old, whom he idolised as a child, is a surreal feeling for the Shanghai-born racer.
“It’s quite strange, a weird feeling to be fair,” added Zhou.
“Because, the first time I knew him, we were together testing, private days at Alpine.
“The following year, the year he came back to F1, I was able to drive in FP1 in Austria, in his car. That was a very special moment, and I never thought it would happen one day.
“Now, to be racing against him on the same grid, with Alpine one of our main competitors in this very tight midfield battle, the very first race in Bahrain it was very special to hear [his name on the radio].
“We were fighting for that last point until the end of the race so that was a special moment.
“Hearing all these legendary names like Hamilton, [Max] Verstappen, Alonso and then, now, it just feels like another driver.
“Back then, it felt very special and seeing them go past, it’s hard to describe the feeling inside yourself.”
Zhou sits 16th in the Drivers’ Championship having put five points on the board so far in 2022.