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Formula 1

Zhou’s curiosity is making it easier for Bottas to help him

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Valtteri Bottas says his Alfa Romeo team-mate Zhou Guanyu is making it “very easy” to help him because the Formula 1 rookie keeps asking questions.

Bottas and Zhou form an all-new line-up for Alfa Romeo this season, with Bottas joining from Mercedes as the team’s lead driver and Zhou stepping up from Formula 2.

Since his own move was confirmed last year and Zhou was revealed as his team-mate, Bottas expressed a desire to help the F1 debutant as much as possible, and that has proven to be more than just talk with Zhou expressing his gratitude for Bottas’s open approach as early as pre-season testing.

Bottas told The Race he has tried to be proactive if he sees something he can assist with but added that Zhou’s own approach is making the process easier.

“It comes quite naturally, like sometimes I try to think like, all the new things that he’s facing as a rookie, whether it’s about the race start or tyre management or set up-direction,” Bottas said.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Practice Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“It’s just like, if I see him struggling in one area, then I just try to give my feedback.

“But he’s also really good when there are things that are kind of concerning or he is unsure about, whether it’s about set-up or driving, he always asks.

“It makes it very easy for me just to give an honest answer and with my best experience.

“So, he’s been good at asking questions. And also learning things very quickly.

“For him, it’s good to see that at the moment his racecraft and race pace, that’s his strength.

“In qualifying, in that one single lap, there’s still work to do. But that comes with experience.

“And I want us to be a really strong pair of team-mates. So that’s why I want to help him because I want both of us scoring points.”

One example team boss Fred Vasseur gave in Bahrain was that Bottas made a remark during the post-qualifying debrief that was meant to both congratulate Zhou making it into Q2 and also help him feel less pressured.

“I told him something like, ‘Yeah, I remember s***ting myself in my first qualifying’,” Bottas said.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Melbourne, Australia

“And then he was like, ‘Ah, that’s how I feel, so it’s normal’!”

Zhou was visibly emotional after qualifying in Bahrain and especially after the grand prix itself, having just scored a point on his debut.

He admitted he had put a lot of pressure on himself ahead of his first start and had been relieved to tick off his major goals – reaching Q2 and scoring points – straight away.

“I definitely could fully relate to the feelings he had in the first quali, first race start, all these things,” said Bottas.

“But nobody’s really putting pressure on Zhou, in a way.

“With the rate of progress he’s doing, he’s absolutely fine.

“Naturally, he will get better and better.”

Zhou’s debut point and Bottas’s return of 12 points from the first three races means Alfa Romeo has already matched its points tally from the entire 2021 season, despite Bottas retiring from a points-paying position in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

That feat is largely down to the fact it ceased development on last year’s car to focus on the all-new technical regulations for 2022, which means the C42 is considerably more competitive than its predecessor.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Race Day Melbourne, Australia

But the performance of the team’s two new drivers and their working relationship has pleased team boss Vasseur because he knows that Alfa Romeo’s championship prospects will depend heavily on how quickly Zhou adapts to F1 and how closely he can match Bottas.

Vasseur was key to hiring Bottas and has repeatedly defended the decision to sign Zhou – who comes with significant financial backing – over the likes of Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Melbourne, Australia

He told The Race that Bottas’s support of Zhou is delivering on something they had discussed at length ahead of the season.

“It is not a matter to be nice but he knows perfectly that the team-mate performance will come from a kind of emulation,” Vasseur said.

“It will come from the fact that we will be able to develop also with Zhou, it will come from the fact we will be able to share data, share tests.

“And he [Bottas] knows that the first part of the season for Zhou is critical, because depending on the first result it will go in one direction or the other.

“He fully understands that he needs to be supportive to give the best start of the season to Zhou, to be sure that Zhou will be supportive and will be part of the success.

“It’s just a positive attitude. And this is crucial.

“We had a long discussion last winter with Valtteri about this. But I didn’t need to convince him, he understood this.”

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