Motor racing-China F1 crowd turns up the volume ahead of Zhou’s home debut

By Thomson Reuters Apr 21, 2024 | 1:29 AM

By Joe Cash

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chants of “Guanyu, Guanyu, Guanyu,” drowned out all other sound at the Shanghai International Circuit on Sunday as Zhou Guanyu, China’s first and only Formula One driver, stepped onto the starting grid ahead of his first Chinese Grand Prix.

Sauber’s Zhou, who races in his hometown in China’s first grand prix since 2019, has failed to score a point in the season’s first four races but that has not dented the enthusiasm of the estimated 60,000 fans who have turned out each day.

“2004 I was here, before turn one also, just watching the race, dreaming to be an F1 driver in the future, and 20 years later, we are here,” Zhou, 24, said on the starting grid in front of the main grandstand.

“It’s amazing to see the crowd, it’s amazing to be here, of course. After a few years of missing home grand prix, I’m just really glad I’m still here and I’ll try to give it everything on track.”

Having a Chinese driver is a boon for F1 and its owner Liberty Media, who see the country as a key market. Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has previously said China could one day host two races.

Xu Zheng, who travelled down from Beijing to watch the race, said Zhou’s significance to Chinese motorsport could not be overstated.

“A decade or two ago, when I was new to F1, it was unimaginable to have a Chinese driver racing in a Formula 1 car,” he added.

“Zhou Guanyu’s experience and story will surely inspire more Chinese practitioners of the sport or children who share the same dream to strive for the future.”

Zhou has so far enjoyed a relatively successful home grand prix, having finished ninth in Saturday’s sprint and 16th for Sunday’s race. He had qualified last over the past three races.

“I’ve driven my heart out so far this weekend,” Zhou said.

(Reporting by Joe Cash; Editing by Peter Rutherford)