Formula 1 is on Guanyu Zhou’s horizon, but that doesn’t mean his time in the Alpine Academy comes to a halt. The Chinese Formula 2 driver talked to F1 Feeder Series about what it means to him to be part of the academy and touches on his future with the French Formula 1 team.
By Matt Jeffray
Motorsport’s talent scouting is forever changing. Not too long ago, a driver would set the world alight in the junior categories and get picked up by a small privateer team in Formula 1 with the hope of making waves together. These days, academies are set up to provide the funded opportunity for the next stars to show their ability, and the biggest constructors such as Ferrari, Mercedes, Alpine and Red Bull have all dipped their toes in the driver development waters to varying success.
Guanyu Zhou is a prime example of joining a driver academy and using the tools perfectly to firmly cement his name into the minds of everyone in the paddock as a must watch driver for the future.
Needless to say, the competition is always fierce between your peers on the rise through the motorsport ladder, and the dynamic changes once again when you’re competing with drivers in the same academy as you. And in Guanyu Zhou’s case, racing against the likes of Oscar Piastri and Christian Lundgaard can be an intense but ultimately friendly affair, as you push each other to achieve your dreams.
“To be honest, it’s something I’m quite used to, being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy before”, he told F1 Feeder Series. “In Alpine we haven’t had any collisions together with a teammate, even though sometimes there is some fire between us as it’s highly competitive. We are getting on quite well together off-track, but obviously we’re not just trying to beat the other academy drivers, but also everyone on the grid. I think the same applies to all of us.
“I think we’ve seen in recent years that the academies give a lot of opportunities to younger drivers. I think in these last two years we’ve seen drivers get FP1 sessions in F1, and we can now see with drivers like Norris and Russell – they’re doing a great job coming from academies.
“The teams understand that the younger drivers can still be as fast as the champions of the sport, but obviously the final decision is not one that we can make. But we do have more opportunities than the past. You must be good and do well in the series you’re competing in.”
And as for his future regarding the Alpine Academy, Zhou is very happy with where he is and feels nothing but graciousness for what the French outfit have given him over the past couple of years. But understandably, as we reach the silly season climax, the 22-year-old admits that a decision hasn’t been made as to where he commits to for 2022 and beyond.
“Nothing has been decided yet, but I’m quite happy with the academy and how everyone works together. It’s why I joined the Alpine Academy two years ago. They’ve provided me with lots of opportunities with a Formula 1 car, whether that’s driving a two-year-old car or doing demo runs, and even being at the 1000th Grand Prix in China 2019. It’s all helped me a lot to get a better understanding of the Formula 1 world, because we’re attending all the debriefs as well, which helps a lot. So, I’m quite happy right now.”
And even in being part of one of the biggest academies in the world with Alpine, they still allow the drivers to show driving flexibility in different series to stay race fit. He touched on what it was like competing in the F3 Asia Championship during the off season before 2021, and how that helped him keep sharp, as well as the differences between the machinery and even his preferences, giving us an insight into his driving style.
“I think it helped a lot. Spending four or five weeks in the same country and sacrificing a bit of my winter break. It wasn’t like last year with a lot of young drivers, but now we had quite a few F2 drivers and F3 drivers. It was nice to race a car I haven’t driven before. Because when you’re used to high downforce and high speed it is a different driving style. With the F3 car you really must carry the minimum speed and brake late.
“It helped me a lot because even when driving a lower category, you can find something new, especially when the championship goes all the way down to the last rounds. It makes you quite well prepared. It keeps you in a nice rhythm of racing.”
“I prefer F2 because it’s more like F1 with higher downforce. You can brake super late and attack the corner but then it’s not up to me what I’m driving. But in general, it was good for me to try and adapt. If you look back to the first pre-season test day in F2 this year I was a little bit down, but after three days I was well prepared for the first race in Bahrain.”
The Formula 2 Championship resumes next weekend on 10th September at the famed Autodromo Nazionale di Monza to kick off the second half of the 2021 season.
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