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OPINION: Is Zhou's performance worth the money?

OPINION: Is Zhou's performance worth the money?

16 August - 10:00 Last update: 16 August - 10:00
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GPblog.com

Guanyu Zhou is the only debutant in Formula 1 this season, but the Chinese driver is not yet making a big impression. GPblog lists his performance in 2022 and also looks at the possible alternatives for Alfa Romeo.

Chinese pocket money

Prior to 2022, there was already much criticism on the arrival of Zhou. People pointed to the bag of money he would bring and not to his past performance. The Chinese finished third in his third season in Formula 2, but where the numbers one and two (respectively Oscar Piastri and Robert Shwartzman) did not get a spot in F1, Zhou did.

For Alfa Romeo, the move was understandable. With Valtteri Bottas, the driver who can bring in the points and develop the car is already there. Zhou has driven good results in F2 and can produce decent performances in F1, but his bag of money helps Alfa Romeo to build a better car. The fact that Zhou is the first Chinese driver in F1 also helps Alfa attract sponsors from that country and the attention from Asia also appeals to F1.

Nevertheless, Zhou's performance should also be looked at critically. The best comparison that can be made is with his teammate. Bottas is an experienced driver, a race winner, but not a great champion as was shown alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. A good benchmark for a young talent.

Bottas crushes Zhou

In that respect, it is painful for Zhou that he cannot come close to his teammate over one lap. He finished three times ahead of the Finn in thirteen qualifications, but on average the Chinese loses 0.638s per qualification over the first half of the season. This difference is not so big for any other team during the first thirteen qualifying sessions.

In the race, too, the difference is huge. Of the races that the two both finished, Bottas finished ahead of his teammate every time. This also means that Bottas is already on 46 points and Zhou only on 5. This means that Bottas is responsible for no less than 90 per cent of Alfa Romeo's points. That is too much, even for a paydriver.

Alfa Romeo is currently in no man's land in sixth place. With 51 points, Alfa is far behind Alpine and McLaren, but has a seventeen point margin over number seven Haas. Even if Zhou had a larger share of the points, Alfa Romeo would still not get close to the 95 or 99 points of McLaren and Alpine.

In that respect, Alfa Romeo has things well in hand. With these two drivers it is in a handsome sixth place among the constructors and the prize money that goes with it. In the second half of the season, however, it will have to keep Haas, AlphaTauri and Aston Martin behind it. This will require an improvement from Zhou.

Zhou will also want to make that improvement. There are also several drivers on the radar of Alfa Romeo who can put Zhou under pressure.

Schumacher and Pourchaire

Theo Pourchaire is the biggest candidate. The 18-year-old Frenchman is second in the Formula 2 championship, 21 points behind Felipe Drugovich. Pourchaire is part of the Sauber Academy and therefore a contender for the seat at Frederic Vasseur's team.

The second name that has been linked to Alfa Romeo for years is that of Mick Schumacher. Despite his first points for the Haas team the rumours about the German are still buzzing. The relationship with Haas is said to be not great and now that the door at Aston Martin is closed, the old Alfa Romeo name comes up again. Alfa hoped to bring Schumacher in in 2021, but missed out.

Like Haas, Alfa Romeo is also a Ferrari customer and so the team would love to take the junior into the team. The Schumacher name also brings with it a group of sponsors who can make up for the loss of Zhou's money.

The ball is in Zhou's court. If he can close the gap on Bottas, then it seems unlikely that Alfa Romeo will push him aside. But the question is whether he can close the gap and how far? As long as he is furthest from his teammate in all of F1, his position will always be under pressure. The C42 is also a competitive car, so there will be drivers vying for his seat.

This article was written by Tim Kraaij for the Dutch edition of GPblog. 

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