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Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu arrives ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Photo: Reuters

Formula One: Zhou Guanyu hopes to sign off debut season with ‘one final good result’ to repay team

  • Chinese rookie is no stranger to Abu Dhabi, having finished on podium there during his time in Formula 2
  • The 23-year-old wants to end first campaign on a high with Alfa Romeo, and promises to ‘leave it all out there’

Ahead of the last Formula 1 race of the year in Abu Dhabi this weekend, Zhou Guanyu called the pressure to succeed despite not having a car at the front of the grid the biggest surprise of his rookie season.

The Chinese driver was considered a controversial choice by some for the second seat with Alfa Romeo, alongside Valtteri Bottas, but has largely answered his critics with solid performances on the track.

After scoring a point in his debut race in Bahrain with a 10th-place finish, Zhou has added more at stops in Canada and Italy, and an eighth place in Montreal was his best of the season.

And with the team chasing sixth position in the constructors’ championship, the 23-year-old said he would “leave it all out there” at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.

“When I signed the deal there were lots of questions from fans who had not been following my journey, and you feel a lot of pressure,” Zhou said.

Zhou Guanyu (right) wants to sign off his debut season in style. Photo: Reuters

“There was a lot of effort in preseason testing, I think being in the points in Bahrain on my debut was the best reward I could get from the part of the season.

“And that really raised my confidence and belief in myself that I could step up, and I just kept working the same the direction, to get my understanding better and better.”

Zhou Guanyu still hopeful of Chinese Grand Prix despite F1 chief’s doubts

By any standard it has been a season of ups and downs for China’s first full-time driver in F1, from a run of three DNFs in five races starting in Miami in only his fourth appearance, to the horror crash at Silverstone a week after the highs of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Still, Zhou points to the race in Montreal as a turning point following the “upset” of the early outings and after “such a tough period” he said things got better.

But after a year in which he said he had grown “both as a diver and a person”, Zhou said he was still surprised by the “pressure of being an F1 driver in general”.

“When you are racing F2, fighting for a title or as a contender, then the pressure is minimum compared to what you have here,” he said.

“Here, for us, it’s a team reality that we are fighting for points not podiums or race victories, but still the pressure is much higher because it’s so tight and it [sixth place] means so much for the team next year in terms of development, so that’s definitely the biggest surprise.”

Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu at the Brazil Grand Prix. Photo: AFP

Adjusting to life in an F1 car had also taken some getting used to, Zhou said, adding that was why his main focus for the season had been on “not making stupid mistakes, to keep the car at least on track and then to build laps”.

“I think it’s worked pretty well in that respect,” he said.

Despite spending the season battling for position in the middle of the grid, the two Alfa drivers are still fighting for points, and the team has a five-point gap between them and nearest challengers Aston Martin.

Zhou is no stranger to the Abu Dhabi track, having finished on the podium there during his time in Formula 2, and said he wanted “one final good result this year to repay the team of this first season together”.

Finishing sixth would be the manufacturer’s best result in years, firmly burying the dark days of the 2014 season when Alfa finished pointless.