It will be the Chinese driver’s third season on the grid, after finishing 18th in the Drivers’ Championship last year and four points off experienced teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Sauber enters a stop-gap period with its ‘Stake’ identity between Alfa Romeo’s departure and Audi’s entry in 2026 – the Hinwil-based outfit becoming a full works operation for the German marque.
A number of drivers see their contracts expire at the end of the upcoming campaign, including Zhou, but speaking exclusively to RacingNews365, he stressed: “In my ideal world, the first priority is to stay with the team and to stay in a factory team, and also what happens next year will have a big impact to Audi coming.
“So it’s definitely the priority to try to do well here, to see us growing, to our progression. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities out there but the main target is to finish this season in a very strong position.”
Zhou: The driver market is so open for the rest of the grid
The driver market will be as feverous as ever ahead of the regulation changes being introduced from 2026 as competitors aim to position themselves in the best machinery possible for the next development cycle.
“This season driver market is so open for half of the grid, everyone is in the same kind of boat, which is a nice thing, [it means] we all have to give everything and I think the good guys will come out on top,” said Zhou.
With Lewis Hamilton making the switch to Ferrari at the end of 2024 to replace Carlos Sainz, much of the speculation has pointed towards the Spaniard taking up a seat at Audi.
Bottas has stated that he would like to stay at Stake during this transitional period, while Zhou expects his performance will be scrutinised even more than his rookie year.
“It’s going to be probably one of the most important years… even more important than my first rookie season. Now you have to use the knowledge and experience to extract everything you have with the car,” explained Zhou.
“Last season, even though I was gaining a lot and making steps I couldn’t really convert that into results, which is frustrating because people can’t see it.
“But if this is the season where the car is performing really well, then I need just to extract everything I have.”