Alfa Romeo has signed Guanyu Zhou to partner Valtteri Bottas in its all-new Formula 1 driver line-up in 2022.
Formula 2 title challenger Zhou has agreed on a one-year deal with Alfa Romeo having graduated from the Alpine Academy he has been a part of for three seasons.
He replaces Antonio Giovinazzi in the Sauber-run team and completes the 2022 grid.
Zhou will become the first Chinese driver to race in F1, and the championship is understood to have encouraged his move to Alfa Romeo to help land a lucrative second race in China.
“To be the first ever Chinese driver in Formula 1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history,” said Zhou.
“I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more.”
Though Zhou is only signed with Alfa Romeo for 2022 he is understood to have the assurance of a drive for 2023, which is the earliest a new Chinese race could be added.
F1 chief Stefano Domenicali called Zhou’s Alfa Romeo deal “fantastic for the sport and the millions of passionate Chinese fans that now have a home hero to cheer all year long” and said it also showed that “the pyramid in F2 is working and promoting talent to the top flight of motorsport”.
As Zhou has significant backing, an F1 move has been in the offing for some time.
He impressed in his rookie year of car racing in Italian Formula 4, where he finished second, but lacked consistency across three years of European Formula 3 despite winning two races in his third season in 2018.
That was Zhou’s fourth and final year as a Ferrari affiliated driver before switching to the Renault junior scheme alongside a step up to Formula 2, where he scored five podiums in a solid rookie year.
He again failed to turn that into a title challenge in his sophomore season but Zhou’s third year in F2, on the rebranded Alpine junior programme, has been much more successful.
Zhou has won three races and lies second in the points although the driver he trails in the standings is Oscar Piastri, another Alpine protege and an F2 rookie. Piastri will be Alpine’s official F1 reserve next year, a deal announced just ahead of Alfa’s confirmation of Zhou.
“I dreamt from a young age of climbing as high as I can in a sport that I am passionate about and now the dream has come true,” said Zhou.
“It is a privilege for me to start my Formula 1 racing career with an iconic team, a team that has introduced so much young talent into Formula 1 in the past.
“Now the dream is reality. I feel well prepared for the immense challenge of Formula 1, the pinnacle of my sport, alongside a proven, world-class talent in Valtteri Bottas.
“Next year the target will be to learn as much as possible and as quickly as possible.”
Piastri was an outside candidate for the Alfa Romeo driver but never seemed a serious prospect, primarily for financial reasons.
He will spend 2022 as a test and reserve driver for Alpine and will take part in some Friday practice sessions as well.
As for Alfa Romeo, the Bottas/Zhou combination marks a fresh start after three seasons with Giovinazzi, who is expected to switch to Formula E in 2022, and the retiring Kimi Raikkonen.
“He is a very talented driver, as his results in F2 have shown, and we are looking forward to helping his talent flourish even more in Formula 1,” Alfa Romeo team boss Fred Vasseur said of Zhou.
“We are proud of our line-up for 2022 and we are confident Zhou will form a very successful partnership with Valtteri.”
Complete 2022 F1 driver line-up
Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton, George Russell
Red Bull: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
Ferrari: Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz
McLaren: Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo
Alpine: Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon
AlphaTauri: Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda
Aston Martin: Sebastian Vettel, Lance Stroll
Williams: Nicholas Latifi, Alex Albon
Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas, Guanyu Zhou
Haas: Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin