Sauber says it will be working this winter with Zhou Guanyu to improve the latter's consistency, having warned the Chinese driver that there will be no room for a drop in performance or for any mistakes in 2024.
The Swiss outfit, which operated under the Alfa Romeo banner for the past six seasons, experienced a disappointing decline in 2023, finishing a lowly ninth in the constructors' championship with a mere 16 points, a significant drop of 39 points from their 2022 performance.
Zhou delivered three top-ten finishes or six points to his team, while his teammate Valtteri Bottas tallied ten points in F1’s Drivers’ standings.
The Chinese charger showed clear progress in his second season among motorsport’s elite, despite being entrusted with a weaker car than in 2022.
However, it is equally evident that Zhou needs to raise his game in several areas and deliver performance more consistently on race weekends, as Sauber head of trackside engineering Xevi Pujolar explained.
“In some conditions, it’s been a struggle a bit more and we’re trying to understand what we can give him with the car and how we can work with the tyres, just to make sure he’s more consistent,” commented the Spaniard.
“In some conditions, he is a bit more sensitive to what he is feeling. The differences are not big but in terms of positions they are big, so we need to work on that for next year.
“There is no room for any small drop or mistake.”
Looking back on his challenging year, Zhou reckons that Alfa Romeo lost out to several of its rivals on the development front due to its scarcer upgrades.
“A lot of our main rivals from the beginning of the season, they were able to just change massively, probably introduce a new car or B car over the season and made a very good step forward,” he conceded.
“Obviously, we knew we were going to get that plan for next season. So this year was more about suffering the last few races.
“And then of course, you know, it’s been a little bit inconsistent, unpredictable in terms of performance track by track, but we definitely in general don’t really have the pace, especially over the race distance.
“You know, it just seems to be difficult to keep up with the top 10, even the top, like, let’s say 13 guys.”
The prospect of Sauber rolling out a brand new car in 2024 is a source of optimism for Zhou.
“We’re going to have a completely new car so it’s gonna be a different look,” he said. “Can’t say more than that.
“But yeah, it’s already planned a few races to go. Everything is going really quite well back home. So, looking forward to trying that, and getting some rest afterwards.”