Alfa Romeo seat in focus amid talk of first Chinese F1 driver

China's Guanyu Zhou, currently second overall in Formula Two and test driver for the Renault-owned Alpine Formula One team, is one of the candidates keen to fill the seat as the Swiss-based team decides to call time on Italian Antonio Giovinazzi.

Zhou came closest to the starting grid when he took part in Friday practice with Alpine in July.   -  Getty Images

China could have its first Formula One driver next season if the Alfa Romeo team decides to call time on Italian Antonio Giovinazzi.

The seat at the Swiss-based team is the only one with any lingering uncertainty around it, after Aston Martin confirmed an unchanged lineup on Thursday, and a fistful of candidates are keen to fill it.

One of them is China's Guanyu Zhou, currently second overall in Formula Two and test driver for the Renault-owned Alpine Formula One team.

The 22-year-old is 15 points behind Australian Oscar Piastri, who is also a member of the Alpine Academy.

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Shanghai-born Zhou is considered a favourite, with reported substantial backing from Chinese sponsors, in a move that would also delight F1's commercial rights holders Liberty Media.

China is a key growth market for the sport, along with the United States, and first hosted a grand prix in Shanghai in 2004.

No Chinese driver has come closer to the starting grid than taking part in Friday practice, however.

Zhou did that with Alpine, which has no vacancies at its own team, in July while Ma Qing Hua featured in Chinese Grand Prix practice with now-defunct Caterham in 2013.

Swiss-based Alfa Romeo has so far only confirmed Valtteri Bottas, who is moving from champion Mercedes as replacement for retiring fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen, with Giovinazzi's future uncertain.

Giovinazzi is backed by Ferrari, which provides Alfa's engines, and is Italy's only F1 driver.

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The teams are free to choose their drivers, however, and commercial considerations could come into play -- with talk of Zhou attracting tens of millions of dollars to a privately-owned team languishing ninth out of 10.

Alfa team boss Fred Vasseur told reporters at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix that Zhou was one of five or six names under consideration.

"Zhou is doing a good job in F2; for sure he’s on the list," said the Frenchman.

"It's not only due to the fact that he’s Chinese, that he’s a front runner in F2. He’s won some races and I think every single team in F1 is looking at him. We will see in two or three events where we are, what is the evolution of every single driver in F2."

Alfa Romeo also has rising Sauber academy star Theo Pourchaire to consider but the Frenchman has only just turned 18 and lacks F1 track time, making him more of a prospect for 2023. Sauber runs the team under Alfa branding.

Mercedes wants to place its Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, who won the F2 title in 2019, but the Dutch driver's ties to the German manufacturer are a complication for a team closely linked to Ferrari.

"I think the situation with Mercedes, it’s not an easy one," said Vasseur.

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