Home » The premier class returns to China – Sauber’s Zhou in the center

The premier class returns to China – Sauber’s Zhou in the center

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The premier class returns to China – Sauber’s Zhou in the center

When he returns to Shanghai, the Sauber driver Zhou Guanyu is celebrated like the long-time winner Max Verstappen. Zhou is the first Chinese to take part in a Formula 1 race at home.

Overwhelmed by emotions: There was great celebration for Zhou Guanyu in Shanghai – despite a weak result in the Grand Prix.

AP

Zhou Guanyu comes into the home straight a good 70 seconds behind Max Verstappen, but the Sauber racing driver still enjoys a privilege that is otherwise only granted to winners. Zhou has a dedicated parking space, right on the home straight of the Shanghai International Circuit, in front of the mighty and packed grandstand.

The cheering far exceeds that for Verstappen, the ovation is so big that it seems to overwhelm the 24-year-old racing driver. Zhou falls to his knees, faces the cheering crowd, and is not ashamed of his tears. In fact, this 14th place in the fifth race of the season is a historic moment.

For the first time, a local took part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix on Chinese soil, so the result doesn’t really matter that much. With every overtaking maneuver in the confusing rear field of a race that was mixed up with two safety car phases, the noise level increased, and that probably also had an impact on the driver Zhou. “I worked my heart out to make my lifelong dream come true,” he said. In the sprint race on Saturday he finished ninth, just missing his first point of the season.

Zhou was already at the Shanghai race track as a young fan

Zhou waited two and a half years for the big day to finally have a home game at the place where he was first confronted with the premier class in 2004 as a fan of Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher and immediately lost his heart to motorsport.

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Formula 1 has not stopped in the huge Motodrom since 2019, and the high-rises of the Jiading suburb have now moved a little closer. A journey into the unknown for the Grand Prix entourage, after all, the sporting power balance was completely different at the last appearance in 2019: Lewis Hamilton was the dominant winner, today’s dominator Max Verstappen was only fifth, and the vehicle generation was also completely different.

Little training time due to a sprint race, changing weather conditions and tire usage that was difficult to calculate caused further worries for the strategists upon their return. In the end, Lando Norris in the McLaren was surprisingly able to slide onto the podium between Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez from the Red Bull faction; the Ferrari duo with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz behind them had just as little chance as the Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton on sixth and ninth.

Fernando Alonso, a disappointed seventh place, was at least able to record the fastest lap of the race. For Verstappen, after winning the sprint and taking pole position, Red Bull’s 100th overall in Formula 1, it was his fourth win of the season in the fifth race. Team advisor Helmut Marko is happy about the superiority: “We can already think about the next title.”

Formula 1 no longer depends on generous Chinese entry fees

Twenty years after the debut of the Chinese Grand Prix, which was then seen as a prestige project of the city government and was celebrated internationally as the conquest of the communist empire through a deeply capitalist sport, the starting point has changed drastically. Five years of isolation due to the pandemic have changed a lot, not just in terms of sport and technology.

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The booming discipline of Formula 1 is no longer as dependent on the generous entry fees from China as it was back then; it now earns so well and is welcome almost everywhere. Especially since the Arab countries, like the Chinese rulers back then, want to gain a place in the exclusive racing circle to gain their image.

The hosts, which have long been the largest car sales market in the world, are pressing economic concerns. While they maintain national pride in technology as a leading power in electric mobility, domestic demand is weakening, as is foreign investment. Motorsport should help to stimulate business again. At the moment, China needs Formula 1 more than the other way around.

Thanks to Zhou, the GP sold out in no time

Having one of only twenty regular drivers is good. Zhou owes his cockpit to his training in English junior formulas; he has progressed faster than the former BMW driver Ho-Pin Tung or his compatriot Ma Qinghua, who was also not yet far enough to make the big leap in the 2010s but at least took part in four Friday training sessions in Formula 1.

Zhou, on the other hand, shows that he can keep up with the best, he just doesn’t have a better car. A sponsorship dowry gave him and secured his place in the Hinwil Sauber team, but his first appearance in front of a home crowd could also have been his last.

Given the general enthusiasm, such speculations don’t play a big role for once: “I was probably the busiest man in Shanghai this week,” says the Sauber driver, who became a popular advertising figure. Where previously the stands had to be filled by school classes and military personnel, this time the tickets were sold out in no time.

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Given the renewed enthusiasm, Zhou would like to see more Chinese talent make their way into top motorsport in the future. But there are no successors in sight yet; sports and touring car racing is probably more in line with mass taste. After all, Zhou Guanyu had his own documentary dedicated to him on Chinese television. Its title is: “The very first.”

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