As Formula 1 entered its new era in 2022, not much was certain given the complexity of the new regulations.
Would one of the big teams stumble and drop the ball or could a midfield runner find a loophole in the rules to steal an advantage a la Brawn in 2009 with the double diffuser?
One thing that was guaranteed however was that Zhou Guanyu would win 'Rookie of the Year' award by dint of being the only rookie on the 2022 grid.
Stepping up from Formula 2, Zhou was partnered at Alfa Romeo by Valtteri Bottas - who elected to depart Mercedes after five seasons as Lewis Hamilton's sidekick.
China's first ever full-time Grand Prix driver feels that while he gave a good acquittal of himself, learning from 10-time race winner Bottas was also a crucial part of his maiden campaign.
Zhou proud to have delivered
Just before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix brought down the curtain on his first campaign at the top level, RacingNews365.com sat down with Zhou for an exclusive, wide-ranging chat.
"I'm quite happy with the progress I've made as a driver - being in F1 is all about pressure," he explains.
"I was worried about how I would handle this pressure at the start of the year, but it seems to be going well.
"The way I've focused and got to my reference [point], [making] no mistakes [has been good].
"I achieved more than I wanted to get but on paper there is a bit more [we could have achieved] because of the DNFs in some races, but at least I was able to show my potential."
Zhou was labelled by some after his step-up as a pay-driver, despite an impressive record in Formula 2, but he was quick to point out how he silenced those critics.
"The objective was to show the people who doubt me that I am capable of doing the job, but the question was: 'How long do I need to be up to speed to score my first point?'," he says.
"And as it happened in the first race (10th place on debut in Bahrain), the pressure was off.
"I was happy at switching people's support - so I was really happy with how I performed on track."
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New regulations helped Zhou
Given the overhaul cars received from 2021 to 2022, all drivers faced a challenge in getting to grips with how best to extract performance from them.
Zhou - whose 18th place finish in the standings did not reflect his underlying pace or closeness to Bottas - believes that this was not a factor as the drivers should be able to get in any car and make it go fast.
"In general, it's not really an advantage or disadvantage," he ponders carefully.
"Because driving an F1 car needs experience, and I didn't have a lot.
"I'm sure that if you put a driver like Valtteri or Lewis [Hamilton] in the car, it'll be much faster straightaway.
"That is just normal for me, and for me, the question is can we work as a team [to overcome] this lack of knowledge, but it has all come together well."
Given the experience differential between Zhou and Bottas - a veteran of 200 Grand Prix starts - the former was also more than happy to let his teammate lead the development push throughout the campaign.
"It is good to have at least one experienced driver in the team because yes, two people can push each other and it explains why the team leader is usually the one to make the difference, while the other one is still learning" he says.
"That's exactly how I learnt this year, working with Valtteri, learning how to work with the team on little details that can make a big difference.
"All of this when considered together can make the team stronger.
"It is difficult to be here in F1 and [on the pace] straightaway."
Zhou grateful for home support
As the first Chinese driver to race in a Grand Prix, Zhou says he receives "massive support" from fans back home - and is eager to race on home soil.
However, while at the time of the interview, the Chinese Grand Prix was on the provisional 2023 calendar, it has since been dropped.
This is as the Chinese government and president Xi Jinping are following a 'zero Covid' policy where the virus must be totally eradicated before restrictions can be lifted.
Given China's slow uptake of the vaccine and hesitancy among older generations, this is proving to be something of a challenge.
It means that F1 cannot return to Shanghai until 2024 at the earliest - five years after the last Chinese GP.
"I know that Formula 1 and motorsports are very popular in China," he explains.
"Of course the next big step will be to have a Grand Prix in China, and the people watching you so they can see it live - I am passionate about this and it will be amazing.
"It is something I look forward to the most."
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