The most recent ‘worst kept secret’ in Formula 1 was Giovinazzi’s departure from Alfa Romeo in favour of rookie Guanyu Zhou. However, fans have been quick to speculate that the main reason for Zhou’s welcome into the sport is money rather than talent, labelling him as a ‘pay driver’ similar to Stroll, Latifi and Mazepin.
Firstly, let me quickly explain what a pay driver is, for those who are unfamiliar. A pay driver is, according to Autoweek, “a competitor who forgoes payment by the team owner and instead brings money to the team in the form of sponsorship to secure a slot behind the wheel”. So, first and foremost, they are chosen for their money rather than their talent.
We have seen Formula 1 teams choosing their drivers based on money rather than talent many times in recent years, the most recent example being Nikita Mazepin for Haas. Giovinazzi acknowledged this fact himself when being interviewed following the news that he will be departing from Alfa Romeo – he said: “Formula 1 is emotion, talent, risk and speed. But when money rules, it is also ruthless.” He will now race in Formula E next season.
China’s market is huge and having a Chinese driver is a great opportunity for F1 to increase its audience in the country
Alfa Romeo team boss Frederic Vasseur has been quoted saying, “It is a great opportunity for us as a team, for the company, for the sponsors, for Formula 1, in general, to open up a completely new market in China.” And this is undeniable – China’s market is huge and having a Chinese driver is a great opportunity for F1 to increase its audience in the country.
But the real question is: is Zhou talented? If a driver has both money and talent, then they are realistically the perfect signing for an F1 team. And, it is undeniable that Zhou has talent – he is currently running second in the ongoing Formula 2 championship. Does this seem impressive? On paper, yes.
However, once you delve into some background details… not so much. Did I mention before that it took Zhou three years of Formula 2 to achieve performances at this level when the current leader of the championship Oscar Piastri is able to do this in his rookie year? Not to mention, many other current F1 drivers have been able to win the F2 championship in their first year, like George Russell and Charles Leclerc.
Zhou is talented, yes. But he’s not one of those once-in-a-lifetime, unbelievable talents like we have seen elsewhere on the grid
Zhou is talented, yes. But he’s not one of those once-in-a-lifetime, unbelievable talents like we have seen elsewhere on the grid, and it seems a crime that Oscar Piastri has failed to get a seat in Formula 1 after his incredible debut F2 season. Alfa Romeo could have probably signed someone with a bit more potential, but the opportunity to sign a driver with as much money as Zhou was too good to say no to. I guess we will have to wait and see how he performs next year, alongside his new teammate Valtteri Bottas.
At the end of the day, Zhou has more talent than his fellow pay driver Nikita Mazepin. So, at least there’s that.
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