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Home hero Zhou expects ‘mix of emotions’ on Chinese GP debut

China’s Zhou Guanyu said Thursday that he will experience a “mix of emotions” when he finally races his first grand prix on his home track at the weekend.

The first full-time F1 driver from China has been elevated to superstar status in his homeland with his image plastered all over Shanghai, the city he hails from.

Grand prix racing is returning to China for the first time in five years after previous editions were cancelled because of the pandemic.

“It’s been crazy over the last week and a half since I came back from Japan,” said Sauber’s Zhou, who has been on an endless series of interviews, promotions and fan sessions.

“I can’t wait. I know there’s going to be a mix of emotions going into this weekend,” the 24-year-old told reporters. 

“Especially on Sunday when the national anthem will be going and the memories of when I came here as a youth will come back.

“But the most important, critical thing is to do the right job and to score points.”

In a whirlwind few days, Zhou also attended a premiere of a documentary about his life, “The First One”, which will hit Chinese cinemas on Friday.

Zhou was a five-year-old spectator at the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in 2004, when one of the drivers he watched was Fernando Alonso. 

Now he is lining up on the grid alongside the Spanish veteran and he sat next to the 42-year-old in Thursday’s drivers’ press conference.

“Back in the day I watched this man,” Zhou smiled, turning to Alonso. 

“I can’t imagine how he is still here racing at a very high level. For me it has been 20 years waiting to get to this grand prix.”

The closest previously that a Chinese driver came to securing a drive in F1 was when Ma Qinghua had a practice session at Monza in 2012.

Zhou has been an F1 driver since 2022 but is yet to win a race and his Sauber team have not scored a world championship point this season.

But the Chinese pioneer is confident he can give the home fans something to cheer for in either the sprint race on Saturday or Sunday’s grand prix.

“Two opportunities this weekend and we have the potential,” he said. 

“The race craft is OK and points are definitely there to be taken. But the midfield battle is super tight between all the cars.”

Zhou raced as a teenager in a Formula 2 support race in 2019 in Shanghai but does not feel that he has any home advantage.

“It’s not a track I actually know the best,” Zhou admitted. 

But he hopes to thrill the tens of thousands of fans packing the grandstands to support him.

“It’s an opportunity to inspire and pave the path for future generations being interested in the sport,” he said.

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