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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Daniel Moxon

Why Chinese F1 star Zhou Guanyu sees British Grand Prix as "my second home race"

Off the track, Zhou Guanyu is mild-mannered, polite and eloquent. He's a different person entirely when behind the wheel of a fast car.

Mirror Sport experienced that first-hand at the British Grand Prix. Invited to sit alongside the Chinese racer, the plan was to let him know that he needn't take it easy out on track.

Zhou didn't need to be told. No sooner were our seatbelts on and door closed that he wheelspan the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 100th Anniversary Edition off the line – and wasted no opportunities presented by the Silverstone track to throw the rear end out.

When we met again later, though, in the team's paddock motorhome, it was like being presented with a whole other person wearing the same face. This version of Zhou comes across slightly shy, wearing a small grin as he explained the main difference between our joyride in the Giulia and his usual day job.

"It's quite straightforward, the acceleration and of course the top speed," he said. "It takes forever to reach 250kph in a road car but in a Formula 1 car it's two seconds and you're already 200 plus.

"On the other hand, the downforce and the corner speeds are just so different. It's another world. Also, Formula 1 cars these days are quite crazy compared to other categories, the F2 and the F3, in terms of the downforce they generate."

As a South Yorkshireman, I have been keen to speak with Zhou for a while. The 24-year-old was born and raised in Shanghai but moved to Sheffield as a pre-teen in search of a more competitive challenge in his karting journey.

He spent a few years living in the Steel City, developing his skills while representing locally-based Strawberry Racing. At Silverstone this weekend, the helmet he is wearing is a nod to the national and European honours he won while growing as both a racer and a person.

Still smiling after a hot lap around Silverstone with Zhou (F1)

"It was all very new, a culture shock," he said of his big move, made when he was just 12 years old. "I didn't go, let's say, from Shanghai to London and then to Sheffield – I went from Shanghai straight to Sheffield. I went from a massive city to somewhere with more countryside, more mountains, nature.

"It was different, but I enjoyed my time there. It was the perfect way for me to go through the early stage of my career while I was a young guy, growing up. It settled me down and helped me to focus on racing. It's really famous for the snooker which I like and play as well. Apart from that, I spent so much time with my karting team.

"It was a great time there and I had great friends there. It also helped me to quickly learn my English – I was there during my GCSE period and there weren't many Chinese people there, other than in university. I had to improve my language and that really helped me.

Zhou opened up on his time living in Sheffield (Simon Thompson)

"It was good to be back there this year to catch up with some people – half of the city has turned into a small Chinatown! I was so impressed with some of the restaurants that you don't even get in London."

Zhou rose through the ranks and was, for a while, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. He later joined Alpine's junior programme and spent three seasons racing in Formula 2, before leaving for Alfa Romeo when they offered him his shot in the top category.

Now in his second F1 season, he feels he is now in a position where he can really begin to show what he can do. "I'm happy with the progress that I have made and the weaknesses that I have improved. The starts, my racecraft – qualifying has been much better than last season.

"Me and my team-mate [Valtteri Bottas] started the season very closely together so it's good. Last year, I was still struggling to be ahead of Valtteri, but now we're quite balanced. It means that I've been extracting the most from my car but, of course, car performance is not where we want it to be as a team."

In both his F1 seasons so far, Zhou has not yet had the chance to race in his home country. The Chinese Grand Prix's return is provisionally planned for the 2024 season but, in the Shanghai race's absence, the void has been at least partially filled by this Silverstone event.

"I feel coming here like it is my second home race. It's not a 'home' feeling but just because I've lived in the UK for such a long time. A few years I lived in Maranello in the Ferrari Academy, the rest I was always based in the UK so I'm familiar with the culture, cities, country. It's always special to come to Silverstone."

Alfa Romeo celebrates the 100th anniversary of its high-performance Quadrifoglio division this year. To find out more, visit the Alfa Romeo website.

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