Chinese driver Zhou delivered his strongest Formula 1 qualifying performance to date on Saturday, securing the fifth starting spot. Unfortunately, his launch from the grid was slower than expected, and his car was rapidly overtaken, leading to a collision with Daniel Ricciardo‘s AlphaTauri in Turn 1.
In a domino effect, Ricciardo inadvertently shunted Esteban Ocon into Pierre Gasly. This incident resulted in both Alpine cars being pulled out of the race. Zhou’s car didn’t emerge unscathed; he sustained damage to the front wing and received a five-second penalty ordered by the stewards. The penalty was due to Zhou failing to “slow down enough when approaching the corner,” causing a needless accident.
Zhou finished 16th, an entire lap behind the lead. Following the race, when questioned about his start issue, he mentioned that it’s something the Alfa Romeo team would be investigating.
Elaborating on the incident, he stated, “I was holding the revs before the four lights and then I just lost all the response from the throttle, so I started basically [with] zero throttle.” He expressed his disappointment over the incident, given that he had high hopes at the beginning of the race.
Discussing the incident further, he shared, “this is strange, it never happens before at all. I tried to recover before the five lights, tried to go full throttle, but nothing was happening unfortunately, so I had to do a pull-away.” Zhou subsequently clarified that his start was essentially a pull-away, rather than a traditional start.
Regarding his Turn 1 crash, Zhou admitted to F1 Initiative: “I was trying to obviously brake as late as I could to try to gain some positions back, but then partly due to the dirty air of the cars ahead unfortunately I locked up into them.”
Zhou’s problematic start also affected teammate Valtteri Bottas, who lost momentum trying to avoid him. As a result, Bottas dropped from seventh to 12th. Despite his efforts, he wasn’t able to overtake Alex Albon‘s Williams in the final stage and finished in the same position.
Bottas chose to pit early on, following Lance Stroll‘s Aston Martin on lap nine in an attempt to make up for lost ground. However, despite pitting six laps later on his second stop, he still found himself trailing behind Albon. “I felt like I lost like half a second per lap [stuck behind Albon],” he said, expressing his disappointment at the lack of opportunity to overtake.
He went on to admit confusion over Alfa Romeo‘s performance, especially after their solid showing during qualifying. He did, however, point out that the car seemed to work well on a single lap on this track. But the slide appears to start once the tyres begin to degrade during the race.
Echoing Bottas‘s comments, Zhou felt that although their one-lap pace was competitive, they were struggling with grip during the race.