Zhou to make F1 practice debut in Austria with Alpine

Guanyu Zhou will make his Formula 1 practice debut with Alpine this weekend, taking part in FP1 for the Austrian Grand Prix.

Zhou to make F1 practice debut in Austria with Alpine

Formula 2 championship leader Zhou has conducted regular private testing in F1 cars over the past 12 months in his role with the Alpine Academy, which he joined under its previous Renault guise in 2019. He also currently serves as Alpine's official F1 test driver.

Zhou drove last year's Renault F1 car at the post-season test in Abu Dhabi, but will now get a first taste of 2021 machinery when he deputises for Fernando Alonso in opening practice on Friday at the Red Bull Ring.

"Driving in FP1 at a Formula 1 grand prix weekend is like a dream coming true and another step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a Formula 1 driver," said Zhou.

"It's going to be a very special moment. I'm preparing myself as much as I can to be ready and also ensure that I'm able to complete all the targets and plans that the team have set me to do.

"There have not been many Chinese drivers in Formula 1, so to be behind the wheel of an F1 car during a race weekend is going to be a very proud feeling.

"It's going to be even more special that I'm driving Fernando's car as he inspired me to pursue a career in racing when I was young.

"I'm very happy with my achievements so far and I'm very thankful for the support I have from those around me. My aim is to maximise this opportunity and I'm really looking forward to it."

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Zhou will become only the third Chinese-licensed F1 driver to take part in a grand prix weekend, following in the footsteps of Ma Qinghua (below), who appeared in five FP1s across 2012 and 2013, and Adderly Fong who took part in FP1 at the 2014 Abu Dhabi GP.

Zhou has experience of the Red Bull Ring in recent F1 cars after conducting a two-day test at the track last September in a 2018-spec Renault car.

Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi felt confident the experience of driving an F1 car during an official grand prix weekend would benefit the 22-year-old.

"The challenge for young drivers to get into F1 is incredibly hard, and we are proud to support upcoming talent on this road," said Rossi.

"In his role as test driver, Guanyu has participated in test and simulator sessions, so running a free practice in a current car is a logical and important step for one of the Academy's brightest stars.

"This experience will greatly help him as he makes very solid progress towards the ultimate target that constitutes a full-time F1 seat."

Alpine has already confirmed its F1 line-up for next year after signing Esteban Ocon up to a new long-term deal, meaning he will partner Alonso again in 2022.

But the team has already said it would explore options to try and get Zhou on the grid if he gains the required super licence points in F2 this year to make him eligible for an F1 seat.

Zhou currently leads the F2 points standings by five points from fellow Alpine youngster Oscar Piastri, scoring back-to-back wins in Bahrain and Monaco.

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