Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, Suzuka, 2023

2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #15: Zhou Guanyu

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As the only rookie in the field in 2022, Zhou Guanyu lacked direct competition to compare his performances with aside from a very experienced older team mate in Valtteri Bottas.

But compared to some of those who had stepped up to Formula 1 the season before – Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and his team mate – Zhou’s first season was defined by how relatively few mistakes he made.

While he did not mark himself out as a future world champion on the basis of his performances in 2022, he did show himself to be a safe pair of hands behind the wheel who would not give his Alfa Romeo cause for concern in the budget cap era by racking up hefty repair bills. Heading into year two, Zhou was expected to do two things; keep doing what he was doing in 2022, but do it faster.

Although he was not among the most outstanding performers on the grid this season, Zhou was, again a professional if unspectacular performer. Sadly for both him and Bottas, the C43 was never as potent as its predecessor had been in the first half of his rookie season and points came few and far between over the course of the year.

Without the car in which to make a splash in the top half of the field, Zhou’s improvement over his second season was best measured in how much better he matched his more experienced team mate over the year. Although Bottas out-qualified him more frequently, Zhou spent almost half the racing laps in the season running as the lead Alfa Romeo driver and beat Bottas to the chequered flag twice as frequently as he had as a rookie.

There were a handful of genuinely strong weekends from the 24-year-old. Most notably the second round of the season in Jeddah, where he outperformed Bottas across the weekend and overcame slow pit stops and a poorly timed Safety Car to pass several cars in the later laps. Although he was still out of the points in 13th, it was easy to overlook how good a job he had done with the car he had. The next round in Melbourne, he secured his first points of the season by avoiding the chaos at the final restart to cross the line in tenth, then was promoted to ninth thanks to Carlos Sainz Jnr’s post-race time penalty.

Barcelona saw more points after another solid performance over the weekend. Again the quicker of the two Alfa Romeos, Zhou had a very good start and looked like a veteran on his hard tyres, finishing ninth thanks to a penalty once again – this time for Tsunoda.

Unfortunately, Alfa Romeo began to struggle to keep pace with the teams ahead who were rapidly finding more pace from their cars as the season progressed, limiting Zhou’s opportunities for points. He only scored once more over the year, during a punishingly hot evening in Qatar. Despite an underwhelming qualifying performance, Zhou put in another mature drive despite the horrific heat and once again demonstrated his ability to keep within track limits when so many of his rivals appear unable to. Although he crossed the line in 12th, his clean track limits record allowed him to jump three places in the final classification. For a third time in 2023, he had inherited ninth place and two points thanks to penalties for other drivers.

For much of the season, Zhou was fairly average – not spectacular, but not making many egregious errors either. However, there were some underwhelming weekends. He struggled over the weekend in Montreal while Bottas took a point and when the rain came down during the Dutch Grand Prix, Zhou was the only driver in the field to crash out after aquaplaning off the road along the pit straight.

Zhou Guanyu

GP start520 (x2)
GP finish9 (x3)17

The biggest disappointment was surely Hungary, however. After securing a brilliant career-best grid position of fifth in qualifying, he suffered a bizarre glitch with his car at the start of the race, seeing him swamped by the pack behind. But when he approached the first corner, he completely misjudged his braking point and cue-balled Daniel Ricciardo into the two Alpines, receiving a deserved penalty as a result.

But compared to some of his rivals who are paid much more than he to drive much faster cars, the mistakes that Zhou committed during the season were not worthy of much concern. He received reward for his reliable driving in the form of a contract extension for 2024 and a third season in Formula 1. Over two seasons, he has shown how controlled and confident a driver he is. Now the question is, can he begin to show flashes of something greater?

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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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9 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #15: Zhou Guanyu”

  1. I forgot this guy was on the grid. I don’t remember anything remarkable from him since his F2 title. Actually I don’t remember that either. But I’m very confident for 2024, the goal hosting the Chinese GP having a Chinese driver will finally be achieved.

    1. He didn’t win the F2 title, so you probably don’t remember anything at all about him… :)

    2. I don’t have great recollection of F2, but I seem to think I remember Zhou as someone who was either eye-catching or ‘where’s he gone’? But then, it could be that I only remember the extremes and he did have those quiet, unassuming weekends too.

    3. I remember he stopped the dutch gp with his crash (almost full wet weather), so you can see why I don’t like him at all!

  2. Not their fault. But my prediction is both Bottas and Zhou will lose their seat at the end of next season. Like with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi. That’s how dumb Sauber is.

    1. Its crazy how Sauber replaced an underperfoming Finn with another underperforming Finn, and a completely no-impact, invisible during raceday driver, with another no-impact, invisible during raceday driver.

  3. Zhou didn’t show much growth, although he’s still decently close to Bottas. But as we’ve seen so many times before, it’s easier to be close in bad cars where the better drivers are constrained by the limits of the car (and team).

    These guys are in a tough spot. The team is in a long ‘on hold’ phase, and there’s not much going on there at the moment.

  4. I’m surprised Zhou has been rated over Lawson this season. He just didn’t show enough by occasionally beating a severely underperforming Bottas.

    1. @todfod
      You seem to be being extremely harsh on both these drivers. Saying Bottas is “severely underperforming” while also stating that he’s an “invisible during raceday driver”. He’s had a lack of coverage, but I would say the only two races this season where it was clear Bottas obviously underperformed was when he was in Australia and Abu Dhabi, both of which he was beaten by Zhou on merit.

      What many likely haven’t realised is just how unlucky Bottas has been relating to picking up damage – which on 5 occasions have been the reason behind his race pace looking poor on race day. He’s been a magnet for bodywork and cars coming his direction causing damage. Then he’s also had 3 more retirements.

      Without this awful luck, there were several races where he likely will have been able to pick up some points, and likely being enough to gain him at least one place in the standings.

      The Alfa Romeo has arguably been the 8th or more like 9th best car this year and I don’t think either of the drivers could have got much better results than they have.

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