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Zhou hopeful points are ‘there to take’ at home race in China as Sprint format offers ‘two opportunities’

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SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 18: Zhou Guanyu of China and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber talks in the Drivers

Zhou Guanyu is confident that he can be in the battle for points during his debut home race at the Chinese Grand Prix, with the Sprint format offering two chances for Kick Sauber to score for the first time in 2024.

With this weekend marking the first time that F1 has raced at the Shanghai International Circuit since 2019, Zhou – who made his debut in the sport in 2022, becoming the first Chinese driver to compete in Formula 1 in the process – will finally take to the track in front of his home fans, a moment that he is understandably looking forward to.

COLUMN: Zhou Guanyu on his home Grand Prix, being an inspiration to others and his eye on the future

“It’s amazing of course to have the opportunity finally to race at home, obviously [I’ve] been missing that over the last two seasons when I started my career in Formula 1,” Zhou said ahead of the event. “[It’s] great to be back, great to see all the track facilities [where] I used to be on the other side of the circuit here, in the grandstands watching, being a fan of F1, and then coming back here being an F1 driver.

‘[I] can’t wait, a lot of mixed emotion of course going through the weekend. I want to treat it as much as a normal race weekend, but I’m sure that there will be plenty of supporters coming throughout the days. [I] can’t wait to be driving the first time on track tomorrow, [I’ve] been very busy recently but having a lot of fun times so far.”

Zhou acknowledges that interest in the sport has continued to grow in China, especially since he arrived on the F1 grid two years ago.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 06: Zhou Guanyu of China driving the (24) Kick Sauber C44 Ferrari on track

Zhou will race in front of his home fans for the first time this weekend

“It’s been a massive change, even I think for myself,” the 24-year-old reflected. “I came from the city this morning, the roads [on the way to] the circuit have been completely different to what it used to be.

“Then in general [since the] beginning of [the] 2022 season, Formula 1 has really been building, mainly just the history and background of motorsports culture has been completely growing, and it’s great to see the pattern improving in a positive way.

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“I’m happy to see not just myself be here, I think a lot of young drivers maybe the age of 10, 6, 8, [are] already starting their racing even here or in Europe, trying to chase this journey into Formula 1. It’s great to be representing the country, to drive for the first time here.”

In terms of the on-track action, this weekend will see the first Sprint of 2024 take place. With the top eight finishers in Saturday’s dash scoring points, Zhou is hopeful that this offers an extra chance to score in front of his home fans.

“Two opportunities this weekend [with the] Sprint race format,” he commented. “It sounds very interesting, even though it’s not a lot of practice after missing a few years [at this track] and then coming back straight [into] one session. But I’m sure we have the potential.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber and Zhou

Zhou and Kick Sauber are yet to score points in 2024

“Race craft has been recently okay, and from my side I think there’s parts to be improving. [I hope to] get a bit more clean Friday and get prepared ready for the qualifying sessions. Points [are] definitely there to take but, as we saw, it’s a very complex pack. The midfield battle is super tight between all the cars, so we just make sure the details are correct and take the opportunities.”

Having waited until his third season in F1 to race in China, Zhou is anticipating that Sunday’s main race could prove to be an emotional moment, though he insists that his focus remains on the track.

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“My first race I watched back in 2004, the man sitting next to me was racing already!” Zhou said as he sat alongside Fernando Alonso in Thursday’s press conference.

“For me it’s been 20 years waiting to this Grand Prix, this journey has been not extremely easy, just because of where I’m coming from and also trying to win at least a lot of races in feeder series to be here, and then watching F1 every year.

“When I realised that the home race is not happening for two years in a row, [the focus was] just try to do your best to maintain your seat and then to be here today. For me of course I’m still focused on my job. I know [there is a] mixture of emotions going into this weekend, especially on Sunday with the national anthem going on and the memories reflect on your mind.

“But as much as I am a race driver, I think the most important, critical thing is to do the right job on track, which is trying to score points, give it the maximum I have on the package, on the car we have. I feel like we have potential, even though it’s not the track I know the best, in terms of the layout [and] I never drove it in a single-seater. I still feel like we have a good opportunity with the format. From my side I think we just focus on that.”

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