Points or no points, Zhou is China's F1 hero

Points or no points, Zhou is China’s F1 hero

Points or no points, Zhou is China's F1 hero

Chants of “Guanyu, Guanyu, Guanyu” drowned out all other sounds at the Shanghai International Circuit on Sunday as Zhou Guanyu, China’s first and only Formula 1 driver, stepped on to the starting grid ahead of his first Chinese Grand Prix.

Sauber’s Zhou, who was racing in his hometown in China’s first grand prix since 2019, had failed to score a point in the season’s first four races but that did not dent the enthusiasm of the estimated 60,000 fans who turned out each day.

“It´s really difficult. You try to focus on your job, on what’s going on with your driving, but then having them all screaming and shouting and cheering for you; I´m just so grateful,” Zhou said after finishing the race in 14th place and outside the points.

Before lining up on the grid in front of seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, the 24-year-old described how he had watched the race from Turn 1 in 2004 “dreaming to be an F1 driver in the future”.

“It´s such an emotional journey these twenty years. It reflects so quickly on your mind, I´m just so grateful to be here,” Zhou said after the race.

Having a Chinese driver is a boon for F1 and its owners Liberty Media, who see the country as a key market. Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has previously said China could one day host two races.

F1 fan Xu Zheng, who travelled down from Beijing to watch the race, said Zhou’s significance to Chinese motorsport could not be overstated.

“A decade or two ago, when I was new to F1, it was unimaginable to have a Chinese driver racing in a Formula 1 car,” he added.

“Zhou Guanyu’s experience and story will surely inspire more Chinese practitioners of the sport or children who share the same dream to strive for the future.” (Reporting by Joe Cash)