2022 F1 driver rankings #16: Zhou Guanyu

2022 F1 driver rankings

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Looking back, the 2019 Formula 1 rookie class of George Russell, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon set a remarkable standard for those who followed them. Nicholas Latifi, Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin all had their challenges keeping their cars on track at times during their first years in the sport.

As the only rookie on the 2022 grid, Zhou Guanyu lacked the benefit of having a fellow newcomer for his performance to be judged against. He also had to contend with his team mate, Valtteri Bottas, being a vastly experienced, multiple race winner who had helped Mercedes to continue their perfect streak of constructors’ championship titles in the V6 hybrid era.

But despite his lack of experience, Zhou demonstrated an admirable level of competence behind the wheel of Formula 1’s all-new ground effect cars. Perhaps most impressively, he rarely seemed to make the same mistakes that many of the sport’s recent rookies were guilty of committing during their first year in the sport.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Zhou scored a point on his debut
Debutants are always under pressure, but as the first F1 driver from China with the largest-ever Chinese television audience watching on, Zhou’s debut in Bahrain was more intense that most. Despite falling into anti-stall at the very first corner, Zhou scythed his way through the field. By the final lap, he was running 11th, but Sergio Perez’s last-gasp retirement saw the newcomer secure a well-earned point.

Alfa Romeo were a force in the early rounds of the championship, but while Bottas was picking up a healthy amount of points almost every race, Zhou’s efforts to add to his team’s total were frustrated on a regular basis. In Jeddah, he earned a five-second penalty for passing Alexander Albon off track and then a further penalty after the team committed an error when he tried to serve it, finishing 11th when it should have been better. The next race in Melbourne, he had to watch helplessly as Albon emerged in front of him from the pits on the final lap, denying him the final points place yet again.

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The C42’s poor reliability did Zhou no favours. He was pulled into the garage just six laps into the Miami Grand Prix, then did not reach half-distance in Spain before the exact same problem struck again, forcing another retirement. In Baku, he was again called in to retire after only 24 laps with hydraulic problems.

(L to R): Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo; Lance Stroll, Aston Martin; Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2022
The rookie’s race craft impressed his team
Heading to Montreal for the very first time, some observers pointed to the huge gap in points between Bottas, in eighth place in the championship with 40 points, and his rookie team mate, who still had just one to his name. But while Zhou was losing the qualifying battle to Bottas quite substantially, it had hardly been his fault that he had retired from three of his first eight grands prix for technical reasons.

However, in Canada, Zhou was rewarded for his efforts. Reaching Q3 for the first time in his career on Saturday, he followed that with a mature drive in the race, finishing ninth on the road but gifted two extra points after Fernando Alonso was penalised. A useful boost for both Zhou and his team.

Then, at Silverstone, he appeared to be carrying his Montreal momentum by securing his best qualifying position of ninth. But when the lights went out, Zhou suffered the most horrifying accident any driver endured all season. Through no fault of his own, Zhou’s car was pitched upside down, skidding on its halo before barrel-rolling through the gravel and over the tyre wall into the catch fencing. While images of him walking through the paddock after being cleared by medical staff earned the biggest round of applause of the day from the British crowd, a chance of another points finish had gone begging.

One pattern that emerged with the Alfa Romeo was that it was very poor off the line. At the start of the race, it was not a question of if Zhou would lose positions, but how many. He dropped four places on lap one in Paul Ricard, then clumsily bounced into Schumacher at Beausset, ruining both their races and earning a five-second time penalty.

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As the summer break loomed, Alfa Romeo had been swallowed up by many of their midfield peers. But while Zhou was finding it more difficult to score points, much like his team mate, he was at least keeping his car on the track and out of the barriers. He even picked up one more point in Monza thanks to Daniel Ricciardo’s retirement in the closing laps, but that would ultimately prove the final point he would score all season.

Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo, Monza, 2022
Monza was his final point of the season
He was unlucky to be taken out of the Singapore Grand Prix by Nicholas Latifi when the Williams driver failed to realise Zhou had pulled alongside him approaching turn five. However, as the season neared its end and Alfa Romeo desperately needed points to hold off Aston Martin’s resurgence, Zhou could not find a way to get in the top ten. Bottas, however, took three crucial points between Mexico and Brazil, which ultimately secured them sixth place in the constructors’ championship.

Nonetheless, long before the season’s end, Alfa Romeo had already secured Zhou’s services for a second year in 2023. While Zhou’s results did not indicate an outstanding rookie campaign, his composure at the wheel, strong relationship with his team mate and his skilled racecraft had left a strong impression on his team. His final lap pass on Alexander Albon at the long turn nine hairpin in Abu Dhabi was perhaps the best move of the season that was never broadcast on television.

Zhou will be hoping for more reliability from his car in his second season. But he also has a long winter ahead to try and make sure he will be more closely matched with his team mate once the field reconvenes in Bahrain next March.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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10 comments on “2022 F1 driver rankings #16: Zhou Guanyu”

  1. Considering Zhou’s inconsistency in F2 I had very low expectations for him in his first year in F1, but he proved to be very competent with some good turns of speed. Very happy to have been proven wrong.

  2. I guess Lance will receive a career high F1 ranking of #15 now.

    It’s amazing.. I never thought Lance would break out of the 3 most rubbish drivers on the grid category. He’s been consistently in the bottom 3 ever since his rookie season.

    1. Lance was 15th in 2020 I believe. I don’t think Lance was in the bottom 3 in his latter 3 seasons. In the first 3 he definitely was.

  3. Looks like a person backed with so many investors.

  4. I think Zhou has done (a lot) better than Stroll. I was genuinely surprised at how close he sometimes was to Bottas.

    1. In the canteen queue, photo shoots, and press conference,

  5. 5 retirements for Zhou. And 5 retirements for Bottas.

    Was the car not set up the way Zhou needs it?

  6. Unfair Ranking I feel. He should be above Gasly. Zhou did a phenomenal job to stay close to Bottas throughout the season. Can’t see how he is ranked so low. One the best rookie seasons I would say.

    1. Unfair if anything in the sense he was overrated imo, just compared to schumacher for example, he didn’t shine more compared to an average team mate.

    2. His rookie season was about as good as Giovinazzi’s

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