WORDS BY ROB HANSFORD | IMAGES BY ALFA ROMEO
As rookie debuts in Formula 1 go, it's not exactly been a stand-out beginning for Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu. But that doesn't mean it's been a disaster either.
Quick out of the blocks, Zhou's F1 debut was a solid effort. Scooping up a point, having finished 10th in Bahrain was a great place to begin the foundations of his F1 career, but it all started to fall away from him slightly there on in.
He missed out on points in the following three races, finishing 11th in Saudi Arabia and Australia, before then retiring from both the Miami and Spanish Grands Prix.
So on paper it didn't look the best. But making it into Q3 in Canada and then following it up with an eighth place finish in the race demonstrated that the ability is there.
The Alfa Romeo has been a quick car this year, Valtteri Bottas has proven that. But there's also a case to argue that, on occasion, Bottas has extracted the absolute maximum out of the car.
If anyone else was driving, would they have been getting the same results as Bottas? Possibly not.
So it would be unfair to say that Zhou has underperformed. Far from it.
In a new era of F1, with completely new cars, there was always going to be an adjustment period, but the Canadian Grand Prix demonstrated that Zhou has the potential to be a solid driver capable of fighting for points on a regular occasion.
And he believes his eighth place finish was the breakthrough he needed to take his performances to the next level.
"I've always said that the progress I've been making was quite clear and obviously we just need to convert it on Sunday's results," said the Alfa Romeo driver.
"So yeah, it was the first time we finally were able to finish, when we had a decent chance, and yeah, I was very happy obviously for the whole team.
"Finally, we get both cars finishing in the points, also from my side that was a pretty strong race, with some frustrating moments because I got stuck in the DRS train.
"But finally, to have my best finish in Formula 1 is obviously a good step up.
"Maybe this luck or bad luck has been changed and we’ll keep working from now onwards. We're in a like, good rhythm and with a lot of potential going forward."
And there's every chance Zhou could do that this weekend at the British Grand Prix.
Silverstone is a circuit he knows well, and one that he's driven well at in the past, having won Formula 2's feature race at the track last year.
"I mean, obviously love coming to Silverstone. It’s kind of like my second home in a way, because I've been spending all my life in junior single seaters based in the UK.
"I’ve always felt pretty at home here.
"The track I really like and did well here in F2 last year. So hopefully, you know, with the knowledge, I know the circuit, it’s not a new track.
"So maybe I can be starting another step ahead since so we can be fighting, and be strong with both cars again.
"I think the target is always the same – fighting for the points finishing the race, and I think we have a lot of potential to do that."
But with experience comes pressure. He won't need long to get up to speed, there's no learning of the 3.66 mile circuit required, and so he can immediately get down to work, preparing for the race.
It will therefore be expected that he can have a competitive weekend, and it will be Zhou's biggest test of his season to date.
If he can cope with the pressure and claim another points finish he will have proven outright that he has real potential for the future, but if he lets everything fall away from him, people will begin to wonder whether Canada was a one-off.
These are the demands that come with being a Formula 1 driver. You can't escape pressure.
But with his calm and relaxed attitude and his methodical approach to his race weekends, there's no reason why he can't get another top 10 finish and push his already solid development to the next stage.
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