Zhou Guanyu will become the first Chinese Formula One driver racing for Alfa Romeo in the 2022 season, as the Swiss-based team announced on 16 November.
The 22-year-old is to replace the Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi and partner with the fellow new recruit Valtteri Bottas. Sitting second in the 2021 Formula 2 Championship, and having tipped to land a seat at Alfa for several months, the Shanghai driver is believed to bring considerable commercial backing with him.
It is reported that a total of €30 million has been proposed by Zhou’s sponsors for his seat at Alfa Romeo. In the meantime, Formula One (F1) appears to have long eyed the potential that the Chinese market could bring to the industry, with it being one of the largest commercial markets globally.
Earlier in 2019, the organisation’s Head of Global Sponsorship, Murray Barnett, had revealed in an interview for the state-owned media Xinhua, that the sport is “keen to establish” a second Grand Prix (GP) racing in China.
Moreover, in the same year, F1 announced for the first time a China regional sponsorship system, “with the aim to develop more regional partners in China”. By joining this system, foreign brands can obtain the sport’s marketing rights in China, including the use of F1’s logo and advertising during the race season. It can be seen the ambition for the F1 to diversify into this huge market, with the effect sizeable for the brand as well as those Chinese businesses who can become affiliated with this global sporting event.
The confidence shown at F1 does not come from nowhere. According to F1’s report on its audience figures for the year of 2020, the sport has seen a 43% year-on-year increase in viewership from China in 2020. Digital platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, Toutiao, and Douyin have driven up the growth, with views online up by 133%, reaching 1.9 million.
On the other hand, local brands have already tapped into this sport, with the Chinese technology company Lenovo and e-commerce platform Tmall becoming sponsors for Red Bull Racing and Renault F1 Team respectively during the 2018 season.
While interests in F1 have been shown both at the Chinese public and businesses, the appearance of mainland China’s first-ever F1 driver would further ignite the development of this sport in the world’s most populous country. This provides another gateway for global brands to enter the Chinese market, by leveraging the sport, which should have positive implications for all involved in what is a shrewd move into a growing market.