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Zhou wants to inspire a new generation of hometown heroes

Updated: 2024-04-24 09:26
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Chinese F1 driver Zhou Guanyu waves to fans in Shanghai. [Photo/Agencies]

SHANGHAI — Competing in the 2024 Formula One Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit, which marked his inaugural home appearance as China's first F1 race driver, Zhou Guanyu could not hide his joy and pride.

"I'm a Shanghai boy, driven by an ambition to showcase the evolution of Chinese motor sport globally, and to pave the way for more young talent from my country to shine on the international stage," Zhou told Xinhua.

Zhou voiced his desire for younger enthusiasts to pay increased attention to motor sport, and to see greater participation in the field, believing the Shanghai race to be the catalyst for China's motor sport industry.

Discussing the significance of the Shanghai Grand Prix, Zhou said, "Without it, my journey wouldn't have begun, and I wouldn't be standing here 20 years later, racing on home turf. The F1 Chinese Grand Prix has opened doors for more Chinese drivers to compete on the global stage."

In 2004, China hosted its first ever Grand Prix. Seat number 24 in the grandstand was where Zhou, then five years old, was sitting.

Twenty years later, the seat he has also bears the number 24, but it has a much better, and more thrilling view.

Reflecting on his journey from fan to driver, Zhou said: "In 2004, I was a little fan on seat number 24, knowing nothing about racing. Later on, I progressed to some karting events. I would tell my younger self to stay true to your dreams, you're doing great.

"Don't fear competition, believe in yourself, you're not inferior to foreign drivers," he said.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by Chinese drivers transitioning to European circuits, Zhou admitted, it's an unfamiliar environment.

"Without guides, I had to rely on myself and the team, as it went from being a hobby to me becoming a professional driver," he said.

"You might be a champion in your country, but in Europe, you'll find that your peers on the track may be much stronger than you imagined. Breaking into F1 was a journey filled with obstacles, but one I never regretted."

Since officially joining F1 in 2022, Zhou won that year's Best Rookie Award, with a best finish of eighth place in that year's Canadian Grand Prix, and a best qualifying position of fifth at the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix.

"Every stage is important. Every achievement continues to inspire me to move forward," Zhou said.

The 2024 F1 Chinese Grand Prix also marked the 20th anniversary of the Shanghai International Circuit.

"Since I joined F1, the Shanghai International Circuit has always been the place I wanted to come most. It's a track that's both familiar and unfamiliar to me," Zhou said, while keeping his calm against the pressure of competing at home.

"I feel more motivated with the expectations of fans and myself. I hope to perform better at home. Before the Australian race, I was already practicing on the simulator for this track. Although I've never raced on this track before, I'm fully prepared," he noted.

Zhou's affection for his hometown is also reflected in the Chinese design on his helmet, which features a map of Shanghai's metro and several local landmarks, including Yuyuan Garden, the Waibaidu Bridge and the financial hub of Lujiazui.

"These elements are what I want to showcase to the world. I'm a driver from Shanghai. I want the world to see the development of Chinese motor sport, and I also hope that more young Chinese drivers can step onto the world stage," he said.

"When I'm old, after my racing career ends, I hope I can help more young drivers fulfill their racing dreams, share the experiences I've gained over the years, and guide them to success."

Looking ahead, he is aiming to put in some outstanding performances in the upcoming season.

"My goal is to have more impressive performances in both qualifying and the main race, while aiming to win more races between mid-table teams and earn more points," he concluded.


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