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Zhou's performance costing Alfa Romeo fourth spot from McLaren

Zhou's performance costing Alfa Romeo fourth spot from McLaren

26 May - 09:28 Last update: 09:40


Alfa Romeo is having a strong start to the 2022 Formula One season. The Swiss team is fifth in the constructors' standings on 39 points, but that could have been higher if two drivers were grabbing points for the team. However, Guanyu Zhou does not appear to be able to build on his good start yet. GPblog finds out how the Chinese driver is doing at the moment.

Alfa Romeo makes a leap

Fifth place in the constructors' standings is probably what Alfa Romeo would have signed up for prior to the season. In recent years, Frederic Vasseur's team has mainly sat in the rear, with a ninth-place among the constructors last year. The new rules have given the team a big jump.

The team's new C42 is especially known for being very light. According to insiders, the Alfa Romeo is the lightest car on the grid and thus the only car exactly on the lower limit. Where other teams struggle with excess weight, the team from Hinwil has followed a strict diet during the winter.

This is paying off, because in the first six races the team only scored no points once, and that was in Saudi Arabia. Valtteri Bottas crashed out in a position that entitled him to points and Zhou finished on P11 just outside the points. Points were scored in all other races, but mainly by the Finn.

Strong start in Bahrain

Zhou started his season even more excellently, scoring a point on his F1 debut just like Yuki Tsunoda. In doing so, he was helped somewhat by the dropouts of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, but you have to be there to pick up that point. After that, Zhou was unable to follow up on his strong start.

Twice he finished eleventh. In Saudi Arabia and Australia, he was just not fast enough to get a point, where Bottas drove in the points (but thus crashed out in Jeddah). In Imola, Zhou lost a good chance for points by crashing in the sprint race, after which he had bad luck in Miami and Spain due to technical problems with his car.

After six races, Bottas has collected 38 points and Zhou is stuck with one point. This puts Alfa Romeo at a total of 39, of which 97 percent was thus provided by Bottas. Zhou needs to start providing a larger share of the points if Alfa is to make a move. You want two drivers who are close in terms of points. If Zhou had managed to do that, McLaren could even be an easy target with fifty points in fourth place.

Zhou loses ground

However, Zhou with his Chinese nationality brings a lot of attention to the team and attention also means more sponsors who want to be involved with the team. The Alfa Romeo driver is also said to have come up with a large bag of money himself to make his seat possible, but if the gap remains as big as it is he will also cost the team money. A lower place in the constructors' standings also means less money for the team.

Looking at the qualifying duel, the difference is painful. Zhou never qualified faster than Bottas and over five dry qualifying sessions averaged 0.840s slower than his teammate. Outliers in Bahrain (1.826s) and Spain (1.041s) do not help the Chinese driver to convince the team to keep him.

Zhou is not the only one who has lost all his qualifying duels this year (Sainz and Latifi are also yet to win a qualifying duel in 2022), but the Chinese driver does have by far the biggest gap to his teammate. Only Latifi comes close with a gap of 0.512s to Alexander Albon, but the rest of the teammates are within half a second of each other.

Pourchaire knocks on the door

Zhou already didn't come in as the big man at Alfa Romeo. Oscar Piastri and Robert Shwartzman had finished ahead of him in F2, but the Chinese driver got the seat in F1. The pressure visibly fell off his shoulders when he picked up a point in Bahrain, but since then he has given his critics fodder for discussion.

Alfa Romeo will be keeping an eye on the performance of Theo Pourchaire with an oblique eye. The Frenchman who is part of the Sauber Academy is second in the F2 championship and has already won two main races. If he can show that he can help Alfa Romeo move up the rankings, then after just one year Zhou's F1 adventure might be over. Time is running out for the Chinese to prove himself.

This column was originally written and published on the Dutch edition by Tim Kraaij. 

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