Zhou Guanyu is one of the few drivers without a confirmed contract for 2024. In what has been a difficult year for Sauber and Alfa Romeo, the 24-year-old is still searching for a guarantee of his place on the grid.
Excluding the season opener in Bahrain, Alfa Romeo has rarely shown top-10 performance with the C43. Even with an encouraging start to the new regulations last year, the Swiss-based team finds itself slowly regressing.
This makes it slightly more difficult to assess Zhou’s pace compared to teammate Valtteri Bottas, considering neither are regular points finishers.
Qualifying and race comparisons lean in the 10-time race winner’s favour, especially after recent results.
Whilst this is nothing for Zhou to be ashamed of, given the experience gap, it does complicate efforts to predict the team’s plans for 2024.
Speaking to Sky Germany, Zhou spoke openly about the state of contract negotiations:
“That’s, of course, the goal. But it’s not easy when Audi comes in and all these things [happen]. Then they need a little more time.
“But for me, it’s obviously better to have a long contract to be a little more relaxed.
“There aren’t many seats left, so I’m very careful to stay where I am.”
Prior to the summer break, a Zhou contract extension was the consensus within F1 circles. However, the dynamic between Audi and Sauber regarding driver selection remains ambiguous.
Even Valtteri Bottas, whose deal expires at the end of 2024, has admitted that beginning contracts early next year will be important. The Finnish driver believes it will be necessary to ascertain whether he forms part of Audi’s plans in F1.
The direction Audi wants to take the team (and how significantly they will impact Sauber’s driver line-up before 2026) is, for now, open to interpretation.
It seems plausible that Theo Pourchaire is still under consideration to replace Zhou, but once again, there has been little communication from the team in recent weeks.
Alfa Romeo’s representative, Alessandro Bravi, stated a few months ago that an unchanged driver lineup could be expected. However, this is not consistent with the caution Zhou displayed in the interview cited above.
Until a new agreement is announced, speculation will continue surrounding the Hinwil-based outfit’s short and medium-term plans.
Author: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang