December 2, 2022

Can China’s Zhou Guanyu do for F1 what Yao Ming did for basketball?

4 min read

Austin, Texas

As China’s first full-time Formula One driver, Chow Guanyu Making a living doing things many people can only dream of: traveling the world and racing fast cars.

“It’s acceleration, downforce, G-force,” Zhou said, describing the car’s top speed of over 220 mph (354 km/h) and 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds. He said.

“I think the only difference between Formula One and a roller coaster is that you have to control where you’re going, and you have to put yourself at 100%,” he told CNN.

Chow Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Shanghai, he has been putting his all into driving. Today, some tip him to be F1’s answer to Yao Ming, the Chinese NBA sensation often credited with popularizing basketball in his home country.

It was back in Shanghai in 2004 that – aged just 5 – Zhou watched Rubens Barrichello win the Chinese Grand Prix for the first time ahead of his hero Fernando Alonso. He said that moment helped solidify his interest in racing and has stuck with him ever since.

Zhou Guanyu competes in October's Formula One Mexican Grand Prix in his Alfa Romeo.

“Whenever it was my birthday or something, I would ask my parents to get me a little car that I could play around the sofa at home,” Zoe recalled.

“We actually replaced the couch after a couple of years because the leather was getting scratched … I was pushing it too hard in my imagination of racing,” he said.

Chow’s imagination prevailed. Chinese racing lacked role models, so he made his own way.

He took up go-karting – where many top drivers cut their teeth as young F1 hopefuls – not long after that first Chinese Grand Prix. By age 8, he was running competitively.

A turning point in his racing life came at the age of 12, when he left Shanghai for Sheffield, UK, to continue his development with the Strawberry Racing karting team.

Moving from one of China’s most populous cities to a relatively quiet area in northern England meant a massive adjustment – ​​not least because he spoke little English at the time – but the move gave him a boost in his ambitions. put on the way to fulfill

The karting scene in Britain was more competitive than in China and he had early success, winning both the Super1 National Rotax Max Junior Championship and the Rotax Max Euro Challenge before the Ferrari Driver Academy, a breeding ground for future racing. . Stars

Zhou soon began driving faster cars, climbing through the ranks of F4, F3 and F2. Although great for his career, it can be nerve-wracking to see the family that moved with him to Sheffield.

“My mom was definitely the one who was very worried at first,” Zoe recalled. “But now he’s like, more mature for me and everything, it’s easier for him now.”

Although Zhou’s rise to fame was long, it was his breakthrough as the first Chinese full-time F1 driver – when he joined Alfa Romeo for the 2022 season – that really caught the world’s attention.

“It’s about time we had drivers from all continents and countries,” said his teammate, Valtteri Bottas of Finland.

Zhou hit the headlines after a horrific high-speed crash during the British Grand Prix in July, later crediting his car’s halo protection device with saving his life.

Zhou with teammate Valtteri Bottas at the 2022 Mexican Grand Prix in October.

A basketball fan, Zoe shares his racing number with his favorite player, the late Kobe Bryant, who wore No. 24 for some of his career with the LA Lakers.

But it’s the comparisons to another of Zhou’s sports heroes — former NBA great Yao — that have excited many fans and sponsors.

“Who knows, maybe in 10 years, you know, I can have the same impact. And that’s definitely my goal,” he said of Yao’s legacy of helping popularize his sport at home. Referring to

F1 supporters hope Zhou’s presence can help boost appeal. Motorsport to an even larger global audience.

“This is a great opportunity for Formula One to get a foothold in China,” said CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan.

“There’s no doubt that it only takes one driver, it only takes, as we’ve seen, an NBA player with Yao Ming, an Olympian with Elaine Guo, just one more person to do that. For the player can only go on heels,” he said. .

Chinese basketball star Yao Ming leads the Chinese delegation during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, 2008 in Beijing.

Plans to boost the sport in China may have hit a bump in the road, with unconfirmed reports this week claiming plans to hold the first Chinese Grand Prix since 2019 have been put on hold due to the country’s restrictive Covid policies. can be prevented. Still, even if the 2023 repeat of the race is cancelled, Zhou’s presence on the grid for the rest of the season will give Chinese fans plenty to cheer about.

Even now, Zoe’s fan base has grown to the point where she is often recognized on the streets of London, where she now lives.

“I have to hide myself because there are so many Chinese people,” Zhou said.

Zhou Guanyu is set for the Mexican Grand Prix in October.

Keeping a low profile can be more difficult for a driver than it should be. Known for his eclectic wardrobe choices and colorful race helmets. In fact, such is his love for clothes that he is already considering fashion design as a fallback career.

“I’ve already thought about it. It’s something I really want to do in the future when I’m not racing,” he said. Love putting together creative things.”

For now though, his focus is on the track and his career is likely to one day take him back to where it all began – the Grand Prix in Shanghai, if and when Covid restrictions allow.

“A lot of people are looking up to me,” Zoe said. “And I’m making everyone at home very proud.”

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