Alpine reserve driver Guanyu Zhou has been talking about the pressure he felt that he was under as he finally made his long-hoped for Formula 1 race weekend debut on Friday at the Red Bull Ring.

It’s the first time that a Chinese driver has featured in an official Grand Prix practice session since Ma Qinghua took to the track for Caterham ahead of the 2013 Chinese GP at Shanghai.

“There is a huge amount of people watching this free practice,” he told the media in Spielberg. “Obviously, having a Chinese driver stepping into a practice session for the first time in seven years, people are watching and amazed.

“I will look back when I have the time to see how many viewers we got,” he added. “I think it’s going to be more than a normal Grand Prix weekend to be honest.

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“You don’t know how much pressure I felt before getting the car out on track,” he said. “Right now I’m fully relaxed and feel comfortable in myself and hopefully they are proud of the job I did.

“It felt special to drive FP1 today. I’m really happy with all my runs and I was able to get familiar with the tyres early on. I didn’t expect to be up to speed so quickly and the pace was definitely there on the mediums.

“I felt good this morning, and I was getting more confident on each lap. I just wanted to build it up steadily and grow into the session.

“It’s only the beginning of my career in F1,” he added “That FP1 session gave me a lot more confidence. If I jump into the car next time I’m going to be feeling much more relaxed and prepared to be focused a bit more. Today definitely helped me a lot in general as a driver.“

“[Zhou] did a very good job, didn’t make any mistakes and put in some competitive lap-times,” noted Alpine racing director Davide Brivio. “He can be pleased with his performance and work, and we’re very happy for him.”

Currently the Alpine Academy driver is competing in the Formula 2 championship for UNI-Virtuosi, and is leading the drivers standings by five points from Prema Racing rival Oscar Piastri.

“In Formula 2 this year and last year I always had the confidence to be fighting with the top guys,” he said. “Last year we had all these technical issues, so it wasn’t ideal. I have quite a lot of confidence there to be competitive [but] lots of people can win the championship with the new format.”

Zhou’s time in the F1 car today came at the expense of Fernando Alonso who had to sit out the morning session. However the two-time world champion was quickly on the pace after lunch and ended the day eighth quickest.

“It was good to be back in the car this afternoon,” he commented. “Especially with the C5 tyre compound, that we didn’t have last weekend. It was good to try some laps on them on both short runs and long runs.

“I think that we still need to do some work to fine tune the set-up of the car; with this tyre compound, maybe, we have a different balance. It was quite a smooth FP2 for us and there’s more to come tomorrow hopefully.”

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His team mate Esteban Ocon was outside the top ten by the time the chequered flag came out on the day’s activity, but said that reflected a packed programme.

“It’s been a very busy day with lots of different tests completed,” he said. “We did some valuable runs on those on both low and high fuel. The conditions were also a lot different to last weekend, much cooler.

“The long runs were in line with what we expected too, and there’s more work required tonight to analyse that. All in all, a busy, but productive day.”

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