Monaco Grand Prix: How Alfa Romeo Formula 1 driver Zhou Guanyu’s driving career was forged in Sheffield

It takes plenty of drive and determination to earn a seat in a Formula 1 team – and for Zhou Guanyu, he has carried a strong sense of purpose with him from a young age.

The 22-year-old became the first Chinese driver to race in Formula 1, as he joined the Alfa Romeo team for the 2022 season and marked his first race in Bahrain in March with a 10th-placed finish and his first World Championship point.

Born in Shanghai, Zhou races under the Chinese flag but calls Yorkshire one of his second homes after spending three years in Sheffield on his way to achieving his Formula 1 dream.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Zhou started karting when he was eight years old and in 2011 made the move to Sheffield to be in a more competitive racing environment. He attended Westbourne School between 2011 and 2014 and in 2012 joined Sheffield-based karting team Strawberry Racing.

Made in Sheffield: Former Westbourne School pupil and Strawberry Karting driver, China’s Zhou Guanyu, practices in his Alfa Romeo ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

He enjoyed plenty of success on track during his time in the Steel City as he won both the Super 1 National Rotax Max Junior Championship and Rotax Max Euro Challenge.

In his final year of karting, Zhou finished second in the Rotax Max Senior Euro Challenge and took part in the WSK Champions Cup and the KF2 European Championship.

After moving into open-wheel racing cars in 2015, Zhou – who was known as Steven at Westbourne School – worked his way from Formula 4 to Formula 1, where he now races alongside 10-time Grand Prix winner and ex-Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

His success comes as little surprise to John Hicks, who was his headmaster at Westbourne School.

Nice guy: Sheffield-educated Zhou Guanyu of China and Alfa Romeo. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

“He was pretty quiet when he first arrived as his English was limited, so he found it difficult to express himself,” Hicks told The Yorkshire Post ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

“But he would go away and learn the language and practice it. He would practice on me, he would catch me in the yard and he was very willing and positive and confident in picking up the language. It was that kind of spirit that allowed him to forge good relationships with other people.

“Everybody saw him as a hard-working, conscientious and nice guy. He didn’t understand much at the beginning but he made great progress.”

Zhou is no stranger to the Monaco circuit, as he takes part in his first Formula 1 race on the track that is hailed as the jewel in the competition’s crown. He won the Formula 2 sprint race this time last year, something which helped him catch the eye of the Alfa Romeo team. Hicks, who is still headmaster at Westbourne School, is glad his institution played a role in Zhou’s rise to the elite of motorsport.

Glamourous life: Zhou Guanyu of China driving his in practice at Monaco yesterday. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“He came over here to do karting and get on the circuit. We are very keen when children have talent and determination – we are very keen to support them,” added Hicks.

“We will support them by letting them take time off to pursue their talent but make sure they are getting their studies done as well. He just kept making progress and coming back winning, it was like ‘wow, this kid is so focused’. We knew he had the talent, it is just lovely to see him on the starting grid.”

The last two race weekends have been ones to forget for Zhou who has been forced to retire in his consecutive races in Miami and Spain, with his car cutting out after 28 laps at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last weekend. The 22-year-old is hoping for more success in Monaco this weekend. “We really need to be focused on getting everything right, make sure that we can at least finish off the race and to improve from now,” he said.

“It’s hurting, of course, my experience, but also it felt like all the times where we couldn’t finish the race, we were there together fighting with the guys that are all in the midfield battle.

“It will be amazing to be involved in all those things, but it’s quite frustrating just being two races [with a] similar issue. Obviously it’s a different issue, but a similar problem – because I didn’t finish.”

Zhou’s only points of the season came in Bahrain but his teammate Bottas believes that Alfa Romeo are not far from being able to fight for podiums.

If Zhou ever steps onto a Formula 1 podium, he will receive plenty of cheers from China but expect to hear a few coming from Yorkshire as well.