Ollie Bearman’s terrific F1 debut means a full-time drive is ‘just a matter of time’


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Take a bow, Ollie Bearman.

Labeling the Ferrari reserve driver’s Formula One debut as ‘impressive’ doesn’t quite feel enough to describe the performance the 18-year-old put in over the last 24-plus hours. The opportunity came as a complete surprise. Carlos Sainz was diagnosed with appendicitis, and Bearman only received a few hours’ notice Friday before FP3. Yet, the 18-year-old looked confident, a natural, as he narrowly missed Q3 and converted his P11 start to a seventh-place finish — the best result from a debutant since 2015.

Those six points place him at 10th in the F1 driver standings, and it’s more points than the teams in the bottom half of the grid have scored in the first two race weekends of the season.

It’s worth remembering that Bearman was born the same year Fernando Alonso won his first world championship and was a toddler when Lewis Hamilton won in 2008. On Saturday, the 18-year-old beat the Mercedes star and seemed to match pace with Alonso and George Russell, who finished fifth and sixth. It was a flawless race for the rookie – but was it enough to factor him into the 2025 driver market conversations?

“I don’t know what else I can do because I don’t think I’ll be in F1 for the rest of the year,” Bearman said. “So that was my goal, to do a great showing this weekend. I think I did a decent job, so that’s alright. And yeah, that’s all I can do, to push in F2 and cross my fingers.

“That’s it.”

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How Friday unfolded

It was no secret that Sainz was sick. Team principal Fred Vasseur said Saturday that the initial thought was “food intoxication.” The Spaniard skipped a decent amount of media day on Wednesday and dealt with stomach issues and a fever the next day. Vasseur said, “At the end, he was convinced it would be much better the day after.”

On Friday, the team principal received a call from Sainz saying that he’d likely miss practice but would be on track for qualifying. “(By) 11:30, he was in the hospital, and it was quite clear we were not going in the right direction,” Vasseur said. When the doctors said Sainz couldn’t drive, Ferrari called Bearman.

Although the paddock was given the go-ahead to start the third practice on Friday, not every driver immediately hopped into their cars. Max Verstappen stood in the garage and watched the monitors as one car in particular—No. 38, Bearman’s Ferrari—navigated around Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

It’s not an easy track by any means. It’s high-speed and narrow, like most street circuits, so precision is critical. There are few places where the drivers can go wide, if necessary, because otherwise, they’d hit the wall. As Charles Leclerc pointed out Friday, “It’s definitely one of the most difficult tracks of the calendar for sure, being a street track and so fast as well.”

Bearman has driven the track before in his junior career, but doing it in an F1 car is a different beast. “It has been such a quick progression in my career. Two years ago, I was still in F4, and I only did my first F1 test three or four months ago,” Bearman said Friday.

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The question was how comfortable he would be with so little prep time. Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur said Bearman got the call at around 2 p.m. local time on Friday, and FP3 was set for 16:30. Verstappen said, “I was watching his first few laps in FP3 because that’s where you can judge if someone is a bit comfortable or not in the car. And by lap two, lap three, I was like, ‘Okay, that’s a strong start. I like to see that.’”

Bearman completed 22 laps — the most on the grid during practice — and set the 10th fastest lap (a 1:29.306, roughly 13 seconds faster than his F2 pole position time). Two-and-a-half hours later, he hopped back into the SF-24 for qualifying. He gave his father a brief fright, nearly clipping the wall at one point, and his reaction went viral. Ultimately, Bearman missed out on Q3 by 0.036 seconds.

“Q2, first lap, he was doing a good lap, he had the red flag,” Vasseur said Saturday. “He made a mistake in the second one. He started the last lap in the quali with nothing on the board and he was three hundredths behind Lewis. With a clean Q2, I think he’d be able to do Q3, but again, Jeddah, you have to consider it as a step, not the final target.”

But that Q2 time was only six-tenths off Verstappen’s pole position lap at the time, and the Dutchman was quick to say, “That is more than I think you could have asked from him.”

Verstappen and Leclerc weren’t the only ones to tip their hats at Bearman’s Friday showing. Sergio Pérez said: “I think it’s a place where you don’t want to get the call to do your debut because it’s one of the most challenging places, the one that you have to take the most risk, the one that you have to be the most confident with the car, with the balance. So, yeah, big respect for what he has achieved (on Friday). I think he has done a really strong job. It just shows how well prepared he is for the opportunity.”

Hamilton, who battled Bearman during Q2, said, “To have to jump in without doing any practice, like he has, it was mega, I’m really impressed. It just shows what talent he is. I know how tough it was but he got confidence on it straight away.”

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Ollie Bearman’s overtake on Nico Hülkenberg was a real learning moment for the young driver. (via Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images/Sipa USA)

A Saturday to remember

As the checkered flag fell, Bearman’s efforts were rewarded with six points thanks to the P7 finish, landing him 10th on the F1 driver rankings. That’s more than he has in F2, though it’s not a fair comparison given how Prema had a rough outing in Bahrain, and Bearman secured pole position in Saudi Arabia the day before Ferrari called him up. The cars navigated around Jeddah Corniche Circuit on their cool-down lap, and a few drivers pulled alongside Bearman. Lando Norris gave the 18-year-old a thumbs up, and Hamilton clapped and gave a thumbs up as well.

And when Bearman pulled into parc ferme, Hamilton stood waiting for him. He rounded the SF-24, clapping before hugging the rookie. Russell also waited for the Ferrari driver to congratulate him.

Looking back on the race, Bearman said he was “struggling a bit” when he pulled into parc ferme. “It was really physical, but you know, with a race like this, it’s one of the lowest degradation tracks of the season and one of the highest lateral Gs, so you’re pretty much doing 50 qualifying laps, which is quite impressive.”

As he navigated up the grid, he pulled off critical overtakes, like pulling a dummy move on Yuki Tsunoda. The Nico Hülkenberg overtake, though, was more difficult. But Bearman walked away, learning more about an F1 car because of it.

“I had a lot more pace than these guys; they were just a bit smarter than me with energy usage, which is something that I’ve never had to do before so I was pretty much learning on the job, and especially with Nico. He seemed to use his battery in all the right places, and I seemed to use it in all the wrong places, so it took me a few laps to figure it out.

“Once you do a lap and drain the pack, you have to wait another one to get back up there. I was a bit inefficient with my pass on Nico, but I think the good thing I can take from that is that I stayed disciplined and didn’t try to overpush.”

As the race progressed, Bearman’s seventh-place spot came under threat. Hamilton and Norris pitted on laps 36 and 37 and began closing in on the rookie. He said, “I saw them coming behind me in the pits, and I was like, ‘OK, they are going to come pretty quickly.’” It looked like Norris was on pace to catch Bearman in the final few laps. Time, though, wasn’t on Norris and Hamilton’s sides as they battled each other, and “with five laps to go, I knew if I keep it clean, then I can stay in front of them, and that was a pretty good feeling.”

Awaiting Bearman after the race was his father, who (pun intended) gave his son a bear hug.

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The Bearmans (proud father and tired son) embrace after the race. (Kym Illman/Getty Images)

The biggest question now is whether Bearman did enough to secure an F1 seat in the future. We’ve seen mixed results from previous reserve drivers, like Nyck de Vries, who starred when he replaced Alex Albon (who also had appendicitis) but got cut after 10 races last year, or Liam Lawson, who consistently performed when filling in for an injured Daniel Ricciardo but is a reserve driver again in 2024.

Bearman is scheduled to have practice sessions with Haas and testing with Ferrari while competing in F2 for Prema. When asked about the possibility of Bearman driving for Haas in 2025, Vasseur said: “I think the best way to help him is not to draw a conclusion today. We have to take it easy, that he will have other opportunity during the season to do FP1, to test the car, and we will do it properly. The main focus is and will stay the F2 this season. He has a huge challenge that I will keep in mind also that he did the pole position, and we killed the weekend for him in F2!”

But Vasseur was impressed by Bearman’s calm approach and how he put together a clean weekend despite little prep and loads of pressure. The 18-year-old managed to drown out the noise and focus on the task at hand.

We’ll likely see Bearman in F1 full-time one day. As Leclerc said, “After a performance like that, it’s a matter of time before we see him permanently in the Formula One paddock.”

(Lead photo of Oliver Bearman: Clive Rose/Getty Images)





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