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China sets foot in F1 and Europe begins to not be ‘first world’

The signing of Guanyu Zhou by the Sauber team marks the first time in history that a Chinese will participate in Formula 1 as a starting

China sets foot in F1 and Europe begins to not be ‘first world’


The signing of Guanyu Zhou by the Sauber team marks the first time in history that a Chinese will participate in Formula 1 as a starting driver. Anticipation of an unstoppable trend.

About two decades ago, Bernie ecclestone He uttered a phrase that raised a lot of controversy: “Believe me, in a few years Europe will be a third worldLook what is happening in China. Our continent will soon be a beautiful place for tourism, but the technological and economic leadership will come from Asia ”. The phrase was pronounced in an interview where the English magnate defended himself from criticism for taking more and more careers from his natural European territory, taking them to the Asian continent.

Obviously, when the English magnate of the ‘third world’ spoke, he was referring to the bellows that Europe was losing with respect to America, but especially with respect to Asia. From that point of view, Ecclestone’s words could not have been more accurate because, indeed, today we see how Europe has lost its former leadership and resists the economic and industrial power coming from the East with great difficulty.

First there were the circuits, now the drivers and the teams (at least their property) are beginning to arrive, like it or not, many of them will be Asian sooner rather than later. Formula 1, after all, is a thermometer that measures the health of different economies, countries or industrial sectors like no other sport. Take for example the paradigmatic case of Italy, which in the mid-eighties regularly had about ten drivers in Formula 1, boasted of a grid populated by transalpine sponsors and, however, in 2022 it has not been able to maintain Antonio Giovinazzi, your only representative in the specialty.

Leclerc (left) and Giovinazzi (right) are two Ferrari scholarship drivers at Sauber. Italy will have no representative in 2022.

Italy, no pilots in 2022

That’s how stark the reality of progressive European insignificance is. If the country that is home to Ferrari, from Tazio nuvolari, of the world karting, etc. it cannot resist the push of China, it is the clearest sign that that prophecy of Bernie Ecclestone that raised so many blisters had a lot of reality in its background. If even Pirelli, the legendary Italian manufacturer and current official supplier of Formula 1 tires, has a majority shareholding of Chinese origin!

Since in 2004 the first Formula 1 race will be held in ChinaIt was a matter of time before the local motorsport hobby gradually evolved and, as a consequence, the development of talents with enough category to achieve the famous driver’s super license. Because Guanyu Zhou (Shanghai, 1999), does not reach the Formula Reina simply because of the economic potential it brings. The Chinese rider is a very competent rider who has proven with victories and poles that he deserves his seat in the Sauber team.

It is sad and even a little insulting that the current champion of Formula 2, Oscar Piastri, do not make the jump to the highest category and someone with worse sporting results does, but this is nothing new in the history of motorsport, in a sport where traditionally the money a driver contributes (or his ability to attract him) has always been a factor of enormous importance. Therefore, nothing to object to the presence of Zhou, because if justice were discussed, the distribution of nationalities in Formula 1 based on pure talent, the story would have nothing to do with the one we know.

A young Guanyu Zhou attended the first Chinese Grand Prix to applaud his idol Fernando Alonso

Sauber’s big opportunity

For Sauber, signing Zhou was the golden opportunity to emancipate himself from the tutelage to which he has been subjected for years from Ferrari or the FIAT group. When the late former president Sergio Marchionne He reviewed the accounts of his Formula 1 team and saw that every year there was a recurring ‘pella’ on the part of the Swiss team, he resolved to rename the team as Alfa Romeo, and that since then it became little less than a ferrari satellite, employing its pilots and technicians in the process of training. The manager was clear that if for various reasons there was a certain obligation to supply engines to a Sauber unable to pay the bill, at least it had to be collected ‘in kind’.

The Swiss team today is a healthy company and ready for that leap that makes it the owner of its destiny. To achieve this they need a stable long-term flow of money. It is clear that no one can open such a vein better than the Chinese pilot. Fernando Alonso, who was Guanyu Zhou’s childhood idol, recognizes that interest in Formula 1 is going to skyrocket in his country. But at the same time he also highlights his qualities as a pilot, not for nothing has he been a member of the Alpine talent academy. Let’s remember that Zhou participated with the Spanish driver’s car in a free practice session, leaving an excellent impression indeed.

Alex Albon returns to Williams despite showing nothing special. He is a good pilot, but the power of Asia today rises whole.

Three Asians in 2022

In addition to arriving with a good sports and technical background, Zhou will not have the problems of cultural adaptation or language, as he is having Japanese Yuki tsunoda. The new Sauber driver has lived in the UK for more than half his life, where he moved with his family in order to progress as a driver in the epicenter of Formula 1. Together with Alex Albon he will be the third Asian rider present in the championship next season. A clear sign that this trend of talents from the East has come to stay, and that it will continue to grow.

In fact, the case of Alex Albon perfectly exemplifies where the decision-making power is swinging at a global level, because if instead of the Thai driver we were talking about any other European talent, Albon would hardly have returned to Formula 1. After opportunities in Toro Rosso and in a leading team like RedBull, if something exceptional is not done, the shark pond crusher will say: ‘Let the next one happen’. Sad and cruel but it has always been that way.

Therefore, we can value the importance of having a Grand Prix and two pilots from our country participating in the specialty because, although it hurts to recognize it, Spain is also part of that European ‘third world’ that Bernie Ecclestone announced at the time.