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Fashion, tigers and Alonso’s words of wisdom – Getting to know the real Zhou Guanyu

Staff Writer

Mike Seymour
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After Yuki Tsunoda kicked off our new series, Getting to Know, now it’s the turn of Zhou Guanyu to face a unique set of quickfire questions. From best friends in the paddock to favourite foods and strangest gifts to proudest moments, the Kick Sauber racer shares more about his journey to F1 and his life off the track…

Can you describe yourself in three words?

Firstly, F1 driver. Fashion. Lastly, I’d probably say the only one from China.

What made you fall in love with F1?

I think it’s the passion, the speed, the noise of the engine, and how every single individual driver is chasing milliseconds, let’s say tenths. It makes such a huge difference in this sport compared to other sports. Also there’s a huge team spirit in general, because we have people at the factory, more than 600 employees, or even 1,000 people working just for two individual drivers.

READ MORE: Traffic lights, tacos and moustaches – Getting to know the real Yuki Tsunoda

When and where did you first drive something?

The first time I ever tried a go-kart was actually at seven years old. It feels quite old, maybe, for European people, but actually it’s a pretty early age for us coming from China.

Were you hooked from that moment onwards?

I loved it. Before I tried it I was really scared to be jumping in, because it was the first time I had to control the pedals, wheel, absolutely everything by myself. I felt like I wasn’t able to control everything by just watching from the outside. When I stepped in the go-kart, in the seat, I absolutely loved every second of it.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 04: Zhou Guanyu of China and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber talks to the media in

Zhou is contesting his third F1 season, having debuted with the then-named Alfa Romeo in 2022

A lot of pressure on this question… How many times did it take you to pass your driving test?

One time. The driving test in China is really difficult compared to Europe because we did two practical and two theory tests.

Who’s your best friend inside the paddock, and who’s your best friend outside the paddock?

Outside, inside kind of comes together, no? I’d probably say Oscar [Piastri] is one of my best friends in and out. Fernando [Alonso] also is up there; we sometimes have some fun together off-track. Of course, these days, it’s a bit more difficult. We used to be hanging out a bit but now we’re at different teams [and] it’s not easy during the season, we have such busy schedules. But these two people are probably the ones I have fun or have good times [with] the most.

F1 FANTASY: Take on Zhou in the Shanghai Showdown

Which three F1 personalities past or present would you invite to a dinner party?

Oh. Oscar, Fernando and Valtteri [Bottas]!

Who would be part of your all-time F1 dream team? So that’s two drivers and a team boss...

If I’m running it I’d probably put Fernando there. It might sound a bit boring but I’d probably put Oscar there. I don’t want two world champions in my team, I want one who’s a rising star and one who’s a world champion.

piastri-zhou-alonso-press-conference-2023.png

Piastri and Alonso would form Zhou’s driver line-up if he could choose his dream F1 team

That’s a good blend, isn’t it?

Good [for the] budget as well… You’re not paying that much!

If you could go on holiday with a current driver, who would it be and why?

I’d probably go with Valtteri. I feel like he’s always having quite a lot of fun and he’s probably already been to a place I’m planning to go so he can guide me a little bit and do a tour around the place. I think he’s always having fun, some crazy stuff around, so I find it quite enjoyable to watch.

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Were you impressed by his Instagram posts over the winter?

I wasn’t really so much on the socials over the winter but it looks like he’s having great fun, sharing with people. Of course, he does a lot of cycling, but besides that he does some quite funny stuff, which I love to watch!

If you could form an F1 band, who would be involved and what would it be called?

I’d probably choose firstly the people who don’t have English as their first language, because I think if you sing a little bit in your own language for every single verse, it sounds pretty fun! I’d put myself in there, I’d put Yuki [Tsunoda] in it, I’d probably go for Max [Verstappen], and the last one… I’d put Daniel [Ricciardo]. I know his first language is English, but the Australian accent is quite a special one compared to the others! I think that would be a dream music band.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber and Zhou

Bottas has been Zhou’s only F1 team mate so far and the pair get along well

Any thoughts on the name?

I’d probably go for Tiger Nationals. My kind of nickname is Shanghai Tiger, so I’d put Tiger Nationals, because it’s like an international team.

What’s your ultimate meal?

Actually, I would just go for hot pot. In China we don’t have like starters, we have only a meal and dessert. If I could choose, I would go for hot pot. If it’s international food I’d probably go for mozzarella, crudo, for starter, and then maybe some Chinese dish for the meal.

READ MORE: Alonso on his new ‘lifetime’ Aston Martin deal, talks with rival teams and a Honda reunion

How many different languages can you speak?

Two. Actually, two-and-a-half, maybe. English, Chinese, and I can speak a little bit of Italian, but not fluent.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and what’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?

I think the best advice is quite memorable. In recent years it was actually by Alonso. I had my first FP1 session in Austria in 2021 and I was driving his car. He was like, ‘Have fun, relax and enjoy the ride’. It just sounded so nice from your childhood hero, stepping in his car for the first time when you feel very nervous, and by then it felt like everything just calmed down, ready to go.

The worst advice… I probably had some advice in the early stages of my career [that] I’d been told by kind of like a side coach. It was raining, he walked the track and the rain was going to increase, so he told me, ‘Give it everything on Lap 1’. I put it in the wall. On a street circuit you can’t advise somebody that you have to go for it on Lap 1. It’s something I learnt, not listening to that.

2021 Austrian GP FP1: Zhou Guanyu thanks Alpine for free practice opportunity

What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever been given by a fan during your time in F1?

I’d probably say… Hmm, let me think… I don’t have strange a gift by a fan, I’ve got a strange gift by a driver in the paddock – [Charles] Leclerc last year. He forgot his Secret Santa so he grabbed a last-minute calendar off my team mate. I had like three of them already on my desk!

What’s your proudest moment in F1 so far?

For me, I think when I scored my first point two years ago in Bahrain. On my debut, scoring points was something I never expected to have straight away, so early. I feel really proud having the first-ever points by a Chinese driver as well.

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What advice would you give to someone starting out in the sport today?

I would say if you really love [it] you have to be willing to take every single opportunity, every single chance, sacrifices, hard work… [The work happens] behind the scenes, it’s not in front of the TV where hard work is building from. You just have to be putting a lot of effort into that, more than the others, and maybe one day you can reach or become an F1 driver.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I think probably racing in F1. I just love to be in this sport, it’s a dream to be [here] for every single driver since you’re growing up. I want to stay here and hopefully until I retire!

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