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'I definitely proved myself' – Chinese star Zhou delighted with pace on F1 practice debut

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In FP1 in Austria, Guanyu Zhou became the second ever driver from mainland China to appear in an official F1 session. Afterwards, having finished less than half a second behind team mate Esteban Ocon, the Alpine reserve driver vowed to keep pushing for more opportunities to exhibit his talent.

Zhou is enjoying a stellar 2021 so far, having taken two victories to lead the F2 championship by five points. But his run in Fernando Alonso’s A521 at the Red Bull Ring will no doubt rank highly in his career milestones.

REPORT: Verstappen leads Ferraris in opening Austrian GP practice – with Hamilton in P7

“It was amazing,” said Zhou, who emulates compatriots Ma Qing Hua, who made five practice appearances for Caterham and HRT, and Adderly Fong, the Hong Kong racer who appeared in 2014 for Sauber.

“I’m really thankful for this opportunity - the team believing in me stepping into Fernando’s car. I had to take care of it, but I was also pushing as much as I could to show my full potential.

“At the end we were actually quite fast with the medium tyres and the team was really happy with the job we’ve done. We actually did a lot rather than just focus on the lap time, we were mainly focused on the getting the new set up changed to help the team. And the lap time was also there, so that’s another thing less to worry about. Now we really just focus on the future and what more I can bring to the team.”

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Guanyu Zhou ecstatic with competitive lap time at Austrian GP practice

Zhou’s first experience of F1 machinery came in an older car at Silverstone earlier this year. But this, he said, was a whole new ball game: “The downforce difference with the current car is hugely better, so you have to adapt. It’s never easy.

“I used my first set of tyres to get into a rhythm, and from the second set I was able to explore myself as much as I wanted to. It was not a perfect lap – I locked up in a few parts – but in the end I’m happy with the lap time.

“I went through all the lap times with Esteban and think we were actually quite similar. Less than two tenths on the same compound tyres. I’m happy with how I went and I definitely proved myself here, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in the background and to keep improving more in the future.”

READ MORE: Chinese rising star Guanyu Zhou targeting F1 seat in 2022

So, will Zhou get another chance to prove himself to the Alpine hierarchy before the season is out?

“Not too sure yet,” he replied. “To be doing quite well this time there is a chance, but we have to wait and see.

“When I jumped out of the car Davide (Brivio, Racing Director) was there shaking my hand. The debrief we obviously went through all the stuff we need to go through and at the end Alan (Permane, Sporting Director) also said really well done to myself. So I’m really pleased how everyone congratulated me and I’m just going to keep working the way I am now and try to keep impressing people.”

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