Chinese F1 trailblazer Zhou not just making up the numbers

2 minute read

Formula One F1 - Pre-Season Testing - Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - February 25, 2022 Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu during testing REUTERS/Albert Gea

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Feb 27 (Reuters) - Guanyu Zhou, who will become China's first Formula One driver when he makes his debut next month, said he is not in the sport just to make up the numbers.

The 22-year-old has signed for the Alfa Romeo team alongside former Mercedes racer Valtteri Bottas and will become the first driver from the country of 1.4 billion to line up on the grid at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20.

"I don’t want to be in Formula One just for the sake of being here," said Zhou in a video released in the official unveiling of Alfa Romeo's 2022 challenger on Sunday.

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"I want to be here to be proving myself, to be making my country, making all the people supporting me proud.

"I want to do well in Formula One," said Zhou, who graduates after finishing third in the overall standings of the Formula Two series last year.

Zhou's love of motorsport began when he attended his home Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai as a five-year-old in 2004, the first F1 race held in the country.

The fanbase in China has grown steadily since but there is still a huge growth opportunity for the sport in what it sees as a key market.

Formula One in November extended its contract with the Chinese Grand Prix until 2025.

The race will be absent from the calendar for the third year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season but the sport has long wanted two races in the country.

Zhou, who was Renault-owned Alpine's test driver last year and a member of their young driver academy, likened himself to NBA trailblazer Yao Ming.

"To be that first one is definitely something very important," he said.

"It’s a little bit like Yao Ming for NBA.

"When he shined in the NBA scenario, basketball became a huge sport back home.

"That’s what I’m trying to do now."

Alfa Romeo became the last of the 10 teams to officially launch their 2022 car.

The C42 has run at a filming day and in the first pre-season test in Spain this week but in special camouflage livery.

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Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Ed Osmond

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