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From Prepping for Formula 2 to Qualifying in Formula 1 – Oliver Bearman’s Friday in Saudi Arabia

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Credit: Scuderia Ferrari

Oliver Bearman woke up on Friday morning expecting to race in the FIA Formula 2 championship with Prema Racing, but come the end of the day, he had completed his first Qualifying session in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship having been a last minute replacement for an unwell Carlos Sainz Jr.

Sainz withdrew from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after being diagnosed with appendicitis that required surgery, leaving a vacancy at Scuderia Ferrari, and it was reserve driver Bearman who was called upon to become the first debutant to race for the Maranello-based team since Arturo Merzario and the youngest ever British driver in Formula 1.

Bearman’s pole position in Formula 2, achieved on Thursday evening at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, was chalked off as no driver is allowed to race in both Formula 1 and Formula 2 on the same weekend, but for the eighteen-year-old, a debut in the top level of single seater motorsport is likely to be more important, at least for this weekend.

And after getting his first taste of the 2024 Ferrari on Friday morning during final practice, Bearman experienced his first Qualifying session under the floodlights later in the day, and he was painfully just outside the top ten, missing out on a Q3 appearance by just 0.036 seconds to seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur revealed that he only told Bearman that he would be making his debut mere hours before the start of Friday’s practice session, but he was impressed by the job the young Briton was able to do with very limited time behind the wheel.

“I’m also pleased with Oliver as it was not an easy day for him, jumping in the car at the last minute, as I only told him on the phone three hours before FP3,” said Vasseur.  “Managing to get to Q2, not far from making it to Q3 and on what is a very difficult track is pretty impressive.

“Even though he had so many things to manage he was not particularly nervous and it was an unforgettable experience for him. In FP3 we focused on doing pit stops and also worked on the starts, two aspects that will be important for him tomorrow.  Let’s see what he can achieve.”

Oliver Bearman relinquished his pole position in F2 to race in Formula 1 – Credit: Prema Racing

Bearman was Preparing for Formula 2, not Formula 1

Bearman says he was told by Vasseur to try and avoid being a hero on his first day behind the wheel of the SF24, and it was a case of building up confidence and getting to grips with the car.

“Fred, he doesn’t say much, but what he says, he means,” Bearman is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com.  “He was very clear to me that I have to build it up, step-by-step. Don’t try to be a hero.

“Especially after FP3, which was already a good session, his goal for me was just to keep going like that, and build it up step-by-step. I woke up his morning fully prepared and fully ready for my [reverse grid sprint] F2 race, starting from P10. 

“I got the call pretty late on in the day, just a couple hours before FP3, that I will be doing it.  Of course not the circumstances I would like to make my F1 debut, and I wish the best to Carlos and hope he recovers well. But nonetheless, it’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Bearman acknowledges that his rise to Formula 1 has come very quickly and perhaps earlier than expected, with his first test in a Formula 1 car having only come late last year.

“The stars have aligned,” he said. “It’s been such a quick progression in my career.  Two years ago, three years ago, I was in F4 still, I only did my first F1 test like three or four months ago.

“So it’s been a really quick progression. And yeah, to make my F1 debut in red, hopefully a sign of things to come. I honestly didn’t have time to get nervous or to overthink it.  Because it was so late that I literally had to focus straightaway on trying to get up to speed and catch up the lost time.

“Having missed out on Thursday made my life a little bit more difficult, let’s say. So I was pretty much flat out with the engineers trying to figure out everything and get up to speed as quickly as possible.

“I didn’t have time to think about the gravity of the situation. Maybe that was a good thing.”

Oliver Bearman only tasted the 2024 Ferrari for the first time in final practice – Credit: Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

‘Physicality’ of Formula 1 car a big step compared to Formula 2 car

Bearman says it has been a big step up compared to what he was used to in Formula 2, but he is looking to avoid making mistakes on Saturday evening and to gain valuable experience that will benefit him going forward.

“It’s a big step from F2 in terms of physicality,” he admitted.  “But I always feel prepared to make my debut – that’s what I’ve been training for, in case this F1 opportunity comes up, and it finally has. So hopefully I can make it stick and do a good job.

“That’s my goal. No mistakes and build it up. Get to the end, avoid any carnage, and build up some experience in myself. And hopefully, bring back some points at the end.”

Having taken pole position in Formula 2, Bearman knows he has lost the two points he had earned in the championship by switching to Formula 1, but competing with Ferrari was too good of an opportunity to turn down.

“I mean the thing is the goal of F2 is to get to F1,” Bearman added. “So I get this opportunity, there’s no way I’m going to let it go. I think if I have a good weekend here in F1, it shows a lot more than winning the feature race and doing pole in F2.

“I did half the job in F2. I did pole. And hopefully, I can bring back some points, and show what I’m capable of.”

Oliver Bearman will become the youngest British driver in history to race in Formula 1 on Saturday – Credit: Steven Tee / LAT Images

‘Fine Margins’ Prevent Maiden Q3 Appearance

Looking back at his Qualifying effort in Formula 1, Bearman admitted he was slightly disappointed to miss out on the top ten, especially by the smallest of margins it ultimately was.

“I think the main loss was that I did the lap on lap two,” he admitted. “My first lap was a bit scruffy in sector three, and I lost a lot of time there. And yeah, the tyres aren’t in the best window for lap two. So that’s my mistake.

“And I felt like my lap two was pretty decent. You know, the gaps are so close, I see little pinches of time here and there, but that’s how it is. It’s fine margins.”

Regardless of how long the opportunity will be for Bearman at Ferrari, and we all wish Sainz a speedy recovery from his appendicitis, the Briton has already been confirmed to participate in six free practice session with the MoneyGram Haas F1 Team later in the season.

It is pretty clear that those in the Formula 1 paddock hold him in high regard, and it would not be a surprise if he finds himself on the grid full-time in 2025. Haas is the most likely destination with Ferrari obviously a closed shop with Charles Leclerc and Hamilton, but the next British driver in Formula 1 is here.

Oliver Bearman made his free practice debut with Haas in the Mexico City Grand Prix in 2023 – Credit: Andy Hone / LAT Images
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Long time motorsport fanatic, covering Formula 1 and the occassional other series. Feel free to give him a follow on Twitter at @Paul11MSport.
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