Chinese fans hope Zhou can break through in home debut at Shanghai



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SHANGHAI — Zhou Guanyu’s Chinese fans hope the country’s first and only Formula One driver can shrug off a poor run of form and shine on his home debut to answer the critics who view his passport as the predominant reason he has a drive.

Sauber’s Zhou, who races in Shanghai this week in China’s first grand prix since 2019, has failed to score in the season’s first four races but local supporters remain positive.

Having a Chinese driver is a boon for F1 and its owner Liberty Media who see the world’s second-largest country as a key market. F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has said in the past that China could ultimately host two races.

“That Zhou is a Chinese driver is definitely relevant to his team choosing him,” said Li Qixiang, a F1 fan from Shanghai and chemistry teacher with tickets for Sunday’s race.

“His personal performance is quite controversial among his fans. His potential is recognized but it’s hard to say how he really ranks compared with the other drivers. If his car is good, he may perform better.”

Zhou enjoyed a relatively successful junior career, winning races in the feeder Formula 2 series in 2021 and against a competitive field which included current McLaren driver Oscar Piastri, who finished on the podium twice as a rookie last year.

The Chinese driver has qualified last over the past three races.

“Zhou Guanyu’s ability to improve his qualifying has reached an imminent juncture. I am really looking forward to seeing Zhou get tough in front of his home fans in Shanghai,” wrote one Chinese commentator on social media platform Xiaohongshu.

The 24-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season, with Sauber due to become the factory Audi team in 2026 and uncertainty about the future lineup.

The German manufacturer has ambitious goals and has also been linked to race winners like Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who is looking for a seat for next season when seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton replaces him.

Many of Zhou’s supporters lay the blame for his lack of success on Swiss-based Sauber, who have been midfield battlers for decades on a far smaller budget than manufacturer rivals.

“My expectations are a bit low for Shanghai, to be honest. Zhou Guanyu will only get one practice session to get used to the track … I feel he might not even make it into the second part of qualifying,” wrote another Chinese fan on Xiaohongshu.

The Chinese Grand Prix is also the first sprint race of the season, with just one practice session before sprint qualifying on Friday and that 100km race on Saturday before regular qualifying. 



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