Zhou making full-throttle run at F1

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Zhou hoists his third-place trophy in France in June. At Silverstone, England, he became the first Chinese to claim pole position in a Formula 2 race. Photo provided to China Daily

Chinese Formula One fans have long dreamed of cheering one of their own in the world's most prestigious auto sport.

That prospect is looking ever more realistic thanks to the form of young gun Zhou Guanyu, who earlier this month became the first Chinese to claim pole position in a Formula 2 race, at England's famous Silverstone track.

The 20-year-old went on to finish third and climbed to sixth in the overall standings as UNI-Virtuosi Racing teammate Luca Ghiotto topped the podium.

In January, Zhou was appointed Renault F1's development driver, earning him the right to work alongside some of the sport's finest at the team's British base in Enstone.

The position involves driving the team's simulator and participating in engineering briefings, making him the first driver from China to fill a Formula 1 role with a manufacturer team.

"As long as I'm available, I'll sit in on the drivers' and engineers' meetings, so it's a great chance for me to learn from the experts," Zhou told China Daily in an exclusive interview during a visit home on Tuesday.

"Now I can acquire first-hand F1 experience - understanding how the teams actually work on every racing weekend. I can also communicate with the drivers, such as Daniel Ricciardo, in the pit."

Having graduated from F3, Zhou now hopes his superb season in F2 will attract more F1 interest in his talents.

"My goals are not only winning more pole positions and trophies in F2 - my ultimate ambition is to enter F1," he said.

Zhou has been a motor sports fan since he was a kid and started go-karting when he was just 8 years old.

F1's China debut in 2004 further piqued the youngster's interest, though he could barely distinguish between the racers as their cars zoomed around the Shanghai International circuit.

One blue car stuck in his mind: Fernando Alonso's Renault. And the two-time F1 world champion later became Zhou's idol.

The Spaniard's trademark tenacity soon rubbed off on the young Zhou.

"To chase my F1 dream, I went to Europe for higher levels of go-kart competitions when I was 12 years old," said Zhou. "It was a small school in the UK, and it was a tough time for me at first. I was the only Chinese kid in that school.

"At the very beginning, a Chinese face was not accepted by some and they would crash into me on purpose. All of that changed when I proved my worth by winning."

That sort of high-octane action has sadly been lacking from F1 in recent seasons, with several drivers, including world champion Lewis Hamilton, saying the races have become too processional.

"Don't point fingers at the drivers because we don't write the rules," Hamilton said after winning last month's French Grand Prix.

"We have nothing to do with the money and all that kind of stuff. You should put the pressure on the people at the head who should be doing their job.

"I think they are trying to, but for many, many years they have made bad decisions."

Zhou agrees with Hamilton's assessment and trusts the sport's governing body will find solutions to inject some excitement back into the sport.

"I wish there could be more intense battles between the racers," said Zhou. "Hopefully FIA will change some of the rules in 2021 to make the races more exciting."

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