What Ollie Bearman must do next to be a shoo-in for 2025 F1 seat after dream Ferrari debut

The 18-year-old from Chelmsford – who has moved to Italy to commit to his Formula 1 goal – became Ferrari’s youngest ever F1 driver and did not put a foot wrong in Saudi Arabia

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Monday 11 March 2024 14:02 GMT
Ollie Bearman's dad reacts to son's F1 qualifying debut for Ferrari: 'Little bit stressful'

By the end of a surreal 48-hour whirlwind, the beaming smile could not be wiped off Ollie Bearman’s face. The 18-year-old British driver woke up on Friday morning eager to stamp his mark on his second year in Formula 2, having clinched pole position for the series’ feature race in Saudi Arabia. Yet by Saturday night, he was a Formula 1 driver – the third-youngest ever – who had just scored six points on his debut driving for the sport’s most illustrious outfit. Not half bad.

It may well have given Ferrari chairman John Elkann watching alongside Bearman’s father David, whose pride was radiating in the Scuderia garage, a rather odd sensation. Elkann was the mastermind behind persuading Lewis Hamilton to gamble his career finale on a tilt with the prancing horse next year. But in finishing seventh in Jeddah, Bearman held off the challenge of Hamilton and Lando Norris on his tail with an assured and faultless drive.

A drive that should have got tongues wagging up and down the paddock.

Of course, Hamilton now won’t be the first British driver since Eddie Irvine in 1999 to race for Ferrari, nor the first English driver since Nigel Mansell in 1990. In deputising for the stricken Carlos Sainz, absent due to undergoing appendix surgery, Bearman became the youngest Ferrari driver ever and the youngest Briton in F1 as well.

The boy from Chelmsford has dedicated his life to making it at the top-tier of world motorsport. At 16, after success in claiming the German and Italian F4 championships, he had to persuade his mother, Terri, to let him renege on his education at King Edward VI Grammar School and join Ferrari’s Driver Academy in Modena, just north of the team’s famous HQ at Maranello.

From that point on, Bearman has cranked up the level, finishing third in F3 in 2022 before joining F2 last year. But more significant than finishing sixth and claiming four wins in his debut campaign was his first experience of driving on an F1 race weekend last October when he drove for Haas – who use Ferrari engines – at the Mexican Grand Prix. He registered a time just three-tenths of a second adrift of teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Guenther Steiner, team boss at the time, was suitably impressed.

But this strikingly composed Saudi weekend, from a racer not 19 until May, will have raised the bar – and some. After just one hour of practice, he threw himself into the challenge of qualifying under the lights with the freedom of a youngster and the coolness of an old hand. He stormed into Q2 and only missed out on Q3 by 0.036 seconds, placing him 11th on the grid.

Without any race-day experience but with plenty of inevitable nerves, Bearman drove a terrific race in between the electric twists and turns of the world’s fastest street circuit. He overtook the likes of Hulkenberg and Yuki Tsunoda down the main straight, before retaining his spot in seventh amid the tension and tiredness of the closing laps.

Ollie Bearman impressed when handed a debut drive with Ferrari in Saudi Arabia
Ollie Bearman impressed when handed a debut drive with Ferrari in Saudi Arabia (Getty Images)
The 18-year-old finished seventh in his first F1 race in Jeddah
The 18-year-old finished seventh in his first F1 race in Jeddah (Getty Images)

With Sainz likely to be fit for the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, it was most likely a one-and-done in race terms for Bearman. But, boy, did he grasp his opportunity. Now, the focus shifts to securing a prized spot on the grid next year.

To do that, his targets should be twofold, and the grind of the F2 season must take priority again in Melbourne. The unfortunate net result of his F1 debut was he had to withdraw from the two F2 races, forfeiting a haul of points likely to be hefty given his pole position. Instead, after two rounds, a pointless Bearman lies plum last in the standings after a disappointing opening weekend in Bahrain.

Though a 47-point deficit to leader Zane Maloney may seem a daunting task, it is far from insurmountable. There are 12 rounds and 24 races left of the F2 season, with the sprint feature race weekend combination. It gives Bearman plenty of time to chew away at the deficit, whilst being one-half of the most intriguing driver line-up on the grid, racing for Prema alongside highly-rated Mercedes junior Kimi Antonelli.

The likes of Zhou Guanyu and Logan Sargeant have shown that you don’t need to win F2 to be promoted to F1. In fact, the last two F2 champions, Felipe Drugovich and Theo Pourchaire, have been left stranded in the wilderness, unable to find an F1 seat, but unable to drive in F2 again. However, a top-three finish for Bearman would be concrete evidence of his ability to perform for an entire season.

Bearman on his way to his first drivers’ parade with Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc
Bearman on his way to his first drivers’ parade with Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc (Getty Images)

But, perhaps of more importance, will be his displays in the F1 free practice sessions he will now inevitably be allocated later in the year. Theoretically, he could be given four different opportunities to prove his worth, given his roles as a reserve for both Ferrari and Haas. In reality, he may only receive two, with backups Robert Shwartzman and Pietro Fittipaldi waiting in the wings.

We know Ferrari’s line-up is signed and sealed for the foreseeable future, given Charles Leclerc’s contract until 2029, and Hamilton’s impending move to Italy. If it’s forthcoming in 2025, Bearman’s F1 seat does not lie at Ferrari; it lies at Haas.

The American-owned team have seasoned veterans Kevin Magnussen and Hulkenberg as their drivers for the second year running. After trialling youth in the past with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, Steiner grew tired of the unpredictability and expensive crashes and therefore went with two safe pair of hands.

However, Bearman has already proved that he can compete at the top table. Haas’s new team principal Ayao Komatsu may well want to stamp his own authority on the line-up in 2025 and admitted on Saturday night that the Brit was “definitely” on his radar for a seat. Other potential options could be Ferrari-powered Sauber, where Leclerc started his F1 career, though Pourchaire seems the next in line there. Oscar Piastri showed that the nuclear option of negotiating behind the scenes can also land you a drive.

But irrespective of what’s next, amid the topsy-turvy fortunes that come with life in Formula 1, Bearman has done everything to put himself in the box seat. So far.

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