Oscar Piastri is one of the biggest names in junior motorsport after starting the F2 season, the F1 feeder series, in red hot form. The young Australian has won three races so far in 2021 and leads the championship after six race weekends, but the Alpine junior is reportedly out of the running for an F1 seat in 2022.
After starting out in karts, Melbourne born Piastri has claimed two single-seater titles, Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019 and Formula 3 in 2020, racing for Italian team Prema. Given the promotion to Prema's F2 side in 2021, few had grand expectations of the rookie against more experienced teammate Robert Schwartzman, but Piastri claimed his first win in the opening race weekend of the season.
OSCAR PIASTRI WINS AGAIN‼️‼️‼️
HE TAKES BACK-TO-BACK FEATURE RACE VICTORIES!
— Formula 2 (@Formula2) September 26, 2021
Following recent driver moves in F1, just one seat remains available heading into 2022. Alfa Romeo look set to front a new lineup next season, with Valtteri Bottas having already signed a multi year deal with the Italian team, while Antonio Giovinazzi looks set to be replaced. Giovinazzi has been racing for Alfa Romeo since 2019 but is facing monetary pressures to keep his seat over younger talent.
Guanyu Zhou is reportedly the favourite to replace Giovinazzi should he lose his seat. The young Chinese driver is Piastri's biggest title contender in F2, with 36 points separating the two with two race weekends remaining. In 2020, Zhou's second year racing for UNI-Virtuosi, the 22-year-old finished the championship in sixth place, after coming seventh in his debut season.
While Zhou is a talented young driver, his time in F2 has seen him overshadowed by other drivers. In 2020, Zhou's teammate Callum Ilott finished the championship second behind Mick Schumacher, but was unable to find a drive in F1. While in 2021, Piastri's impressive rookie season may claim the trophy that has eluded Zhou for three years.
Piastri and Ilott have both been ruled out of contention for the Alfa Romeo seat, despite their impressive showing in the feeder series. While they all have talent, Zhou has something these other drivers lack, financial backing.
Formula 1 is notoriously a sport dominated by money and Zhou is estimated to bring in close to 30 million euros (48 million AUD) to Alfa Romeo should he get the seat. Giovinazzi, despite being the only Italian driver on the grid, doesn't generate nearly as much cash, despite pleas from Italian Automobile Club President Angelo Sticchi Damiani to the Italian government to support the 27-year-old.
🚨 | Guanyu Zhou is expected to replace Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo for 2022, providing he secures enough Super License points.
— formularacers (@formularacers_) September 18, 2021
Should Zhou be rewarded for his patience in F2 with a promotion to the pinnacle of motorsport, he will become Formula 1's first ever Chinese driver, a market the sport is keen on capitalising on.
As part of the Alpline junior academy alongside Zhou, should Piastri not earn an F1 seat in 2022, he may still find himself on the grid as a reserve or test driver. If the 20-year-old wins the F2 championship, he will be unable to compete again next season under FIA regulations. Instead, the Australian may have to bide time for a seat in 2023.
The F2 series continues on December 3 in Saudi Arabia. Should Piastri maintain his championship lead, he will become just the third driver to win both Formula 2 and Formula 3 titles in a rookie season.