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Thursday, May 26, 2022

“Fernando Alonso was my childhood idol”

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Zhou Guanyu is the first Chinese to enter Formula 1, in the Alfa Romeo, one of the worst cars in the field. The 22-year-old is under enormous pressure ahead of the start of the season this Sunday in Bahrain (4pm/Sky) and carries the expectations of an entire nation on his shoulders.

His team now uses three Chinese-language social media channels: Weibo, WeChat, and Douyin. “We’re hoping this will reach almost 1.5 billion potential fans,” says one stream. Zhou Guanyu now has to prove that he is in the driver’s seat because he can drive fast, not because he is easy to market. “The weekend will be an unforgettable moment for me and for my country. I know a lot of people in my home country will be watching me, I want them to be proud on Sunday,” he says before its premiere. We speak with him.

Mr. Zhou, first a question: How do you actually pronounce your name?
It’s actually quite simple: Tscho Bayü. So goodbye, like Joe. In our Chinese culture, the family name comes first.

How did you get into motorsport?
I’ve always been a big fan of racing cars, the crazy noise, the speed… It’s fascinated me since I was a little kid, even though I don’t come from a motorsport family.

But your father was a car salesman, right?
That’s true, but motorsports has absolutely nothing to do with car sales. I have always had a passion for motorsports. My first attempts went very well, I quickly defeated the older kids as well. I soon began to focus on it more seriously.

You moved to London with your family when you were twelve years old. Just for sport?
Yes. But more precisely because of my dream of Formula 1. That is the greatest thing you can achieve in motorsport. I won everything at home that I could win in karting. I’m online. But that was my dream. That is why I wanted to go back to my motorsport home in Europe, in England. British fans are incredibly passionate and many Formula 1 drivers are British. They already know how to do it. Language was also important. Learning English is hard enough for the Chinese, but one more language… Now I live in London permanently.

Here to score: Guanyu Zhou of China finished 15th in qualifying in Bahrain.Photo: IMAGO/Motorsport Images

Motoring is expensive. Do you come from a rich family?
There are many rich families in China, but the word “rich” does not fit my family. I would call it a good family that was able to support me. That was the most important thing.

When you think of Chinese athletes, you often think of the status behind them. Did you have government support?
To be honest, not much. Motor racing is not a classic sport for the Chinese. It was my family who accompanied me on my journey to Formula 1 and then of course my team.

How important is motorsport in your country of origin?
Other sports are bigger. Table tennis is extremely important, but the number of spectators for motor sports is increasing every year. And with my commitment, the interest will increase significantly, which of course is very important to me.

How do you want to be seen?
Like a runner who fulfilled his childhood dream. Maybe other people can apply that to his area of ​​life. You see, it is possible if you have had the passion for many years. I am happy with the way people see me now.

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Do they recognize you on the street?
Naturally. I suppose my awareness will also increase significantly at home in Shanghai, where everyone knows Formula 1 and where the races are now broadcast on free television. They even recognize me in London. You lose some privacy by doing this, but it also means you’ve accomplished something.

His great childhood idol is Fernando Alonso, against whom he races on Sunday.Photo: AFP/Ozan Kose

Do you feel the pressure weighing you down?
There is that pressure. But it is lower than last year. In 2021 I had to deliver in Formula 2, that was my last chance. If he hadn’t finished in the top three in the World Championship, Formula 1’s chances would have been very, very slim forever. Now I feel a different pressure. I have to adapt as quickly as possible and learn a lot. If I score some points this season, that’s fine, that’s what I’m here for. Getting to Q2 would also be nice. That would be a step forward compared to last year.

What can you learn from your colleague Valtteri Bottas?
Everyone. He has known Formula 1 for longer than my career has lasted. It’s good to have him by my side. It is very open, we work excellently together and I am convinced that it will continue to be so.

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Do you have role models?
From the beginning it was Fernando Alonso. He was my childhood idol. And on Sunday I will race against him.

Who is your favorite of the title?
It would be great if someone else wins. Charles (Leclerc, editor’s note) he looks strong. Why not him?

Do you have any hobbies outside of racing?
Sports. I love basketball, soccer and badminton. These are my top 3 sports in which I am very active.

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