The 2022 Formula 1 (F1) season started off this past March in Bahrain. There, Zhou Guanyu took to the grid for the first time. 

Zhou is the first Chinese driver in the 71-year history of Formula 1. 

Many rookie drivers face pressure entering F1. But Zhou faces one of the hardest positions. Not only does he have to handle rookie butterflies, but the expectations of an entire country are on his shoulders.

Zhou Guanyu drives during the third practice session ahead of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.This season he is driving for Alfa Romeo, where he’s referenced as “a trailblazer.” 

He earns this title because of his competitive driving and the anticipated popularity he will bring to Formula 1 in China now.  

China is no stranger to F1. They are longtime hosts of the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, which started in 2004. 

But Zhou’s presence on the paddock marks a historical moment for China as he makes his debut season as the first and only Chinese F1 driver.

But his first season comes with some heavy expectations. 

Zhou is dealing with the pressure of securing China a second grand prix, (in addition to the Shanghai Grand Prix). Alongside helping China host another grand prix, gaining new investors, sponsorship deals, and increasing the overall F1 following in China all weigh on Zhou’s rookie season. 

But this 22-year-old from Shanghai isn’t shying away from the heavy expectations. 

So far, Zhou has already made an impression. 

He lined up 15th on the grid after making it into the second phase of qualifying in Bahrain. Then he went on to score his first points for his team, taking 10th place. 

In Saudi Arabia, Zhou beat out his teammate Valterri Bottas to place 11th for the team. He has high hopes for April 14 as he competes in his home race, the Chinese Grand Prix. 

Zhou Guanyu chats with his team after the Bahrain Grand Prix.After scoring his first F1 points in Bahrain, Zhou told ESPN, “I always said that I deserve to be here, and today, I think I showed everything. It’s a great relief. Huge reward for us, and it’s a day that I [will] never forget.” 

Zhou’s story is not only exciting for long-time F1 fans. His presence on the track is also an inspiration for future generations of drivers. 

In the 2021 season, F1 saw strong digital growth on Chinese platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, Toutiao and Douyin. Its follower count is up 39 percent compared to the previous year. 

In addition to growth on Chinese social media, audience figures for live race viewership continue to rise 43 percent year-on-year. 

These statistics are promising for F1 as a global sport. And Zhou’s success will only increase these figures. 

This 2022 season, expect to see even more growth in audience viewership, sponsorship money and fan following as Zhou continues his successful rookie season. 

Zhou is aware of the expectations his team, country and sponsors have of him. But fans should be sure to remember that this is only his rookie season. He has a long career ahead of him! 

To learn more about Zhou’s story, watch this video from the official F1 organization.


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Lily McAndrews
Lily McAndrews is a sophomore at the University of Oregon studying sociology and international relations. She is excited to help bridge the gap of education, culture, and diplomacy through writing!
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