Renault F1 team signs China's Zhou as development driver
Zhou Guanyu became the first driver from the Chinese mainland to win a seat as a development driver with a Formula One team — getting the nod from Renault — and he will carry out private tests in the team's 2017-spec F1 car as part of his program.
The highly-rated Chinese youngster, who parted ways with Scuderia having finished eighth in the European Formula Three championship for a second successive year, is preparing for his debut season in Formula Two, which will see him race for the UNI-Virtuosi squad — formerly known as Russian Time.
According to Renault, which detailed its plans for this season's FIA Formula One World Championships at its headquarters in London on Tuesday, Zhou joined the Renault Sports Academy in January and he will combine his F2 duties with a development driver role at the French team, with the Enstone-based squad confirming that his 2019 role will include driving the team's simulator and participating in engineering briefings.
Zhou, 19, has joined Renault's junior operation, having previously been affiliated with Ferrari, and is the only member of the scheme to hold a direct role with the F1 team.
He is scheduled to become the second Chinese driver in history to sample F1 machinery, following Ma Qinghua's brief outings for HRT and Caterham across 2012/13.
Born in Shanghai in 1999, Zhou is one of the most promising young drivers in China and has achieved rapid development in his career. The 19-year-old picked up two wins in the European F2 championship last season — in Pau (France) and Hockenheim (Germany) — as well as four further podium finishes, and Renault will be looking to develop the protege as he eyes a potential F1 seat in years to come.
Zhou told Xinhua that he is looking forward to opening a new journey with Renault. "Renault's high expectations for the F1 team and the sports academy are a great incentive for me. F2 is the next goal of my career, the competition is fierce, and you need to learn a lot in a short time," he said.
"I have been working hard this winter and I have benefited from the three-day test in Abu Dhabi. I look forward to Renault's help and valuable advice this season, because my goal is success and trophy," said the Chinese youngster.
Zhou said he will try to win the FIA Super License points through various competitions. After winning the license, he will compete with other rookie drivers to win a F1 seat in the Renault F1 team.
"I hope to join the F1 official competition within two to three years," he said.
Renault has long eyed China as a key market for its automotive industry, while the junior scheme's aim is to eventually promote a driver to the manufacturer's F1 team.
Francois Provost, chairman of Groupe Renault's Asia-Pacific region and senior vice president of China Operations, said China is an important market for the Renault Group, so Renault signed the best young driver in China as this will help enhance Renault's brand awareness in China and promote the development of Chinese motorsports.
Renault returned to F1 as a works team in 2016 and has made strong progress each season, finishing last year's campaign in fourth position in the constructors' championship. Australian Daniel Ricciardo has moved from Red Bull and will drive alongside Nico Hulkenberg of Germany as Renault looks to the new F1 season with optimism.