Despite exceeding his own expectations by scoring a point on his F1 debut at Bahrain, Zhou Guanyu says he might have had even more points on the board were it not for bad luck.
Following on from his fairytale Bahrain debut, Zhou narrowly missed out on the points at Jeddah, coming home 11th, but might well have finished higher had he not been slapped with two separate time penalties.
In the next race at Melbourne, Zhou also finished 11th, having lost track position earlier in the race when he pitted just before the Safety Car was deployed.
At Imola, a tangle with Pierre Gasly necessitated a pit lane start, while at Miami, a cooling issue forced his retirement, and the Chinese rued his bad luck in the 2022 season to date.
“To be honest, I think we had opportunities [to score points in] every race, like in Jeddah, I was able to finish P11,” Zhou told RacingNews365.com.
“That should be another points finish, but we did a 25-second drive-though penalty. Then at Melbourne, there were Safety Car issues, then Imola was decent, but there was a crash on the opening lap, and then in Miami we couldn’t make the whole race.
“But I have to say, I was able to face different situations already, I feel like the pure speed is there.
“I feel there’s a lot more potential, [but] also, I didn’t make any silly, rookie mistakes, so for me, that’s a good starting point.”
© Alfa Romeo
Silencing the detractors
The first Chinese to race in F1, Zhou is the only rookie on the 2022 grid. His accession to open-wheeled motorsport’s top table was met with scepticism in some quarters, with some suggesting that Zhou’s place in F1 owed more to his nationality and consequent ability to affect the growth of the sport than to his driving ability.
But after his competitive start to the season, Zhou hopes he has caused a few people to revise their opinions of his driving.
“I think since the beginning of the season, a lot of people are impressed or surprised by my performance,” he said.
“From my side, I will always be keeping up to speed with the other drivers, whether they are more experienced or not, because I feel like I have the ability to do so as a racing driver in Formula 1.
“In Bahrain, I was very happy to be able to [score points] already – definitely not something we were expecting.
“I think people changing their mind is always nice. We just have to keep working, and I think I will be better and faster from now on.”
Zhou praises Alfa progress
Zhou joins an Alfa Romeo team that is upwardly mobile, having already scored more than double the points they managed in the whole of 2021, and the Chinese talked up the progress the team had made even in his short time with them.
“The team did an amazing job to be where we are,” said Zhou of Alfa Romeo, who currently sit fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with 41 points.
“At the very beginning [of 2022], when we were in Barcelona [testing], we were suffering a lot and couldn’t get the car to work, and we didn’t think both cars would finish in Bahrain, and then we worked very hard back in the factory – wind tunnel, simulator, two drivers.
“Where we are now, from Bahrain to now, is a big improvement.”
Searching for constant improvement
In addition to reaching F1 and scoring an unexpected point on debut, Zhou also made it through to Q2 in Sakhir, meaning the Chinese achieved his main goals for 2022 after just one race weekend. So what is he setting his sights on next?
“I haven’t planned everything yet, because my goal for the future was to arrive in F1,” said Zhou.
“For my first year, the original plan was getting to Q2 and scoring points. Then, looking at how the year went so far, we’ll have a much higher chance of fighting for Q3.
“For my first year, I don’t want to be saying that I want to be seeing myself on the podium.
“If I can just keep improving my best finishes, race by race. Now I’ve finished P10. Then maybe even P9, P8, P7.”