Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Photo credit: Joe Portlock – Formula 1 – Getty Images

  • Guanyu Zhou is joining Alfa Romeo and will become the first Chinese racer in the 72-year history of Formula 1.

  • Zhou replaces Antonio Giovinazzi, who will will move to Formula E with Dragon/Penske Autosport.

  • Zhou, 22, finished second in the 2021 Formula 2 standings.

Formula 1 silly season is over after the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team announced today that it has signed Formula 2 driver Guanyu Zhou to partner with current Mercedes racer Valtteri Bottas in 2022.

It will mark an all-new lineup for Alfa Romeo while Zhou will become the first Chinese racer in the 72-year history of Formula 1.

Zhou’s promotion had been expected for several months but was put on the backburner amid discussions between the Formula 1 team’s owners—led by billionaire Finn Rausling—and Michael Andretti’s Andretti Autosports squad. There was an obvious potential impact on the driver market had the Andretti deal come to fruition, with Andretti keen on moving Colton Herta to Formula 1, but those discussions collapsed over control issues.

Zhou replaces Antonio Giovinazzi, who will will move to Formula E with Dragon/Penske Autosport.

“It is a privilege for me to start my Formula 1 racing career with an iconic team,” said Zhou. “I feel well prepared for the immense challenge of Formula 1, the pinnacle of my sport, alongside a proven, world-class talent in Valtteri. Next year the target will be to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible.

“To be the first ever Chinese driver in Formula 1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history. I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more.”

Zhou’s ascent to Formula 1 has been steady rather than spectacular. He moved from his native Shanghai to the U.K. in the early 2010s while still karting and has risen through the Europe-based single-seater championships. This year he holds second in the Formula 2 championship.

Formula 1 has regarded China as a potentially lucrative marketplace but its success so far has been limited. China joined Formula 1’s calendar in 2004 but Zhou is its first representative on the grid. Unfortunately for Zhou he will not have a home Grand Prix in 2022 because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, Alfa Romeo will seek to tap into that market.

Long-term Alfa Romeo already has its eyes on its current junior, 18-year-old Theo Pourchaire. The youngster, currently fifth in his rookie Formula 2 season, has already had a private Formula 1 outing with Alfa Romeo. The Formula 1 team has supported his career since 2019.

Zhou’s Formula 1 graduation for 2022 spells the end of Antonio Giovinazzi’s Formula 1 career. Giovinazzi has spent three years ably competing for Alfa Romeo, having risen from humble origins, but his time is up. He has been Ferrari’s reserve driver since 2017 and is likely to remain part of Ferrari’s team in some capacity, potentially in sportscars.

“F1 is emotion, talent, cars, risk, speed,” Giovinazzi said in a statement. “But when money rules it can be ruthless.”

Giovinazzi’s exit, and Kimi Räikkönen’s impending retirement, means Alfa Romeo will be the only team with an entirely overhauled line-up. The squad holds ninth in this year’s standings, having not developed its 2021 car to focus on 2022. It last finished higher than eighth in the championship back in 2013.

It was also confirmed Tuesday that Formula 2 points leader Oscar Piastri will stick with Alpine in a reserve driver role. He’ll have an extensive test program as he aims towards a 2023 race opportunity. Piastri’s CV warrants a race drive but the cards did not fall in his favor.

“It is the next step towards my aim for a race seat in 2023, which is very exciting,” said Piastri. “I’ve proved myself in the junior formulas over the last couple of years and feel like I’m ready for Formula 1 now.”

Zhou to Alfa Romeo also wraps up a relatively static silly season in which the highest-profile development was Mercedes recruiting George Russell. That prompted Bottas to switch to Alfa Romeo, in place of the retiring Räikkönen, with Alexander Albon returning from the cold to replace Russell at Williams. Of the 20 drivers on this year’s grid 16 have stayed with their current ride for 2022. Zhou will be the sole newcomer.

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