‘He was unbelievably kind’ – Zhou recalls the special Alonso moment he draws strength from
Zhou Guanyu has explained how he idolised Fernando Alonso when he was growing up, while revealing the important role the two-time world champion played in helping him prepare for his F1 weekend debut.
Zhou became the first Chinese driver to contest a Grand Prix when he debuted with Alfa Romeo in 2022, having been inspired by Alonso during visits to his home race as a youngster.
Charting his journey to the grid in a piece for The Players’ Tribune, Zhou reflected: “I was a fan for so long. I still am. I went to every Chinese Grand Prix, and I still would if I weren’t racing. It’s who I am.
“If I could take you back in time with me and show you my room from when I was a boy, you’d laugh your head off. I had Fernando Alonso posters all over the walls. It looked like the room of a teenager idolising their favorite pop star.
“I sat in front of the TV at all sorts of weird hours, with the volume turned all the way down, as my parents slept a few rooms over. And I would just dream.
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“I’d pick my favourite little toy cars off the table and push them around the carpet as I watched Michael [Schumacher] and Fernando and Kimi [Raikkonen] win races. I knew that’s all I wanted to do.”
Many years after Alonso provided inspiration for Zhou in the Shanghai grandstands, the Spaniard also offered a helping hand when they were team mates at Alpine during the 2021 season.
With Alonso one of the team’s race drivers that year, and Zhou part of their academy, the youngster was given a chance to prove his potential via a maiden practice outing at the Austrian Grand Prix.
“I was still in F2 at the time, but I was really hoping to get an F1 seat for the next year,” Zhou commented. “Alpine offered me a session, and it was in Fernando’s car. In his car.
“I’d seen him win in China when I was six years old. I helped my mum put up all those posters in my room. I wore a copy of his helmet during my karting career. He was my guy. And my first F1 weekend was in his car. It felt so surreal.
“I walked the track with him and the team. I asked him as many questions as I could, and he was unbelievably kind. He told me to be free, to enjoy it out there – to just do what I know how to do. He texted me the night before and let me know I could always reach out to him.
“The next day I got in the car and I looked at the steering wheel like, ‘That’s Fernando Alonso’s steering wheel’. And the session went by like a blur.
“On my cooldown lap, I remember my engineer telling me [Lewis] Hamilton’s time, that [Sebastian] Vettel was on a hot lap, and I had to pinch myself. I felt like I was so close to everything I’d wanted. It made me just push harder.”
Zhou is preparing to enter his third F1 season in 2024, keeping his seat alongside Valtteri Bottas at the renamed Stake F1 Team – previously Alfa Romeo.