The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

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A letter to F1 driver Zhou Guanyu: Drive on, Dreamer

As the Arts and Culture editors, Aaron and I have been wanting to incorporate a range of topics and styles of writing when it comes to the Arts and Culture section, including poems, vignettes and other literary works by students. To kick things off, the following is a nonfiction piece that I wrote in response to the first Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix with a Chinese driver, Zhou Guanyu. 

Dear Zhou Guanyu (周冠宇),     

As I write this, today is April 21, 2024, the first ever Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix with a Chinese driver. You don’t know me, but as I was scrolling through Formula 1 (F1) news this morning, I saw the photo of you wearing black and neon green colors, on the ground with tears of disbelief in front of hundreds of fans, and caught a glimpse of myself in you. 

Back in 2022, when it was announced that you were joining the grid as the first ever Chinese driver in F1 history, I felt a great sense of excitement and nervousness as I feared the criticism I knew came along with your seat. I knew that it came with the weight of both being a rookie in the pressure cooker that is F1, and the weight of a nation on your shoulders. I knew how significant this was, a Chinese driver in F1, a historically European sport. Knowing that you bore the pressure of setting the precedent, as we watched one of your earlier races in 2022 one early Sunday morning, I turned to my older brother on the other side of our gray couch and said, “I hope he’s good.” 

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While our paths in life are very different, you, being a race car driver at the pinnacle of your career and I, being a first-year university student, I feel a deep connection and respect for you. 

When I was six years old, around the same age you started go-karting, I learned to ride a bike for the first time. It took less than thirty seconds before I fell, scraping my knees, fresh tears falling down my cheeks and I ran into the house, swearing to never try again. After my father coaxed me, he told me that falling is part of the process and if I didn’t give up, I could do it. I listened to him, but it also led to me falling and crashing many more times—the sting of falling on the concrete pavement never got easier. Like biking, there are a lot of bumpy roads and crashes in both F1 and in life. 

For you, I imagine that moving from Shanghai, China to Sheffield, England at age thirteen to pursue racing was not just a bumpy road, but an unpaved one. What was it like? To move to a vastly different country with a foreign language, risking it all, bearing it all for a dream. When you questioned whether or not the dream was worth it, how did you persevere? Did you think of your younger self who watched F1 at odd hours of the day with Fernando Alonso posters in your room? What does it feel like, to be the first of your kind, to go around the world, racing with all your heart? How did you learn to handle that pressure on and off the track? What do you do, when fear swallows confidence whole? How do you persevere when your car crashes, knowing that even as the chatter and noise gets too loud, you are the only one who can believe in yourself?

I have fallen many more times since I was six years old and, while I am not a professional athlete, this past summer I competed in my first road cycling race. A whopping forty-three miles in blazing August heat and as soon as the race started, I fell behind the peloton very quickly. I rode alone for several miles with no one behind me but the sweeper truck tailing my wheel. I thought about all the times I’ve crashed and gotten back on the saddle, which eventually brought me to the finish line. In moments like those, it’s a challenge simply to finish, to make it through. I imagine that for you, by being the first, having to leave home at a young age, you must have felt very lonely. I’ve realized that when one is alone, the fire has to come within. When there is no one watching, no one cheering, no one to draft behind and bear the headwind of pressure for a moment, doubt feels heavier and even a seemingly smooth path can feel rocky and treacherous. As you walk around the paddock, not seeing a face like your own, being the first, it means that the critique is harsher, the road is lonelier, but the dream is stronger too. 

When you were a teenager, there was no one like you to pave the way or look up to, but you were determined to finish. When I crossed the finish line that day and when I saw that photo of you today, it reminded me that if we keep pedaling, keep driving, keep trying with heart, we can do things we never thought we could do. 

As I watched you, waving and thanking all the fans today, I wanted to tell you that you may not have won the race, but you won our hearts. I believe that you have not only inspired me, but countless other young people. They will stand on your shoulders, forever grateful for the seed you have planted, reminding us all that it is worth it to dream. 

Drive on, dreamer—we’ll be cheering for you all the way. 

Sincerely,

Esther Zhao

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Esther Zhao
Esther Zhao, Arts & Culture Co-Editor

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