until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Bearman's shock Ferrari chance dwarfs even Verstappen's F1 debut

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

What were you doing at 18 years old? Unless you’re Max Verstappen or Lance Stroll, the answer is not racing in Formula 1. And even they can’t say ‘racing for Ferrari’ – but Ollie Bearman can now he's standing in for Carlos Sainz at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

While Verstappen is F1’s all-time reference for ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’, he was not thrown into the deep end like this. Nobody has been thrown into the deep end like Bearman is.

It’s not just that Bearman is still only 18. It’s Ferrari. The external expectation will be massive because this is a top team, with a car quick enough to be on the podium, and more eyeballs on it than any other.

Add to that the fact Bearman’s opportunity is coming mid-weekend, costing him two full practice sessions to prepare and giving him a single 60-minute session to sample the 2024 Ferrari for the first time and get ‘ready’ for qualifying.  

Ah, and this is all happening in Jeddah, the fastest street track in F1, lined with blind corners and perilously close walls.

So, while it is unusual to see a driver drafted in mid-weekend, or be called up for their first F1 start at short notice, this combination of circumstances is extraordinary. And dwarfs even the most remarkable F1 debut circumstances like Verstappen's. 

This could be brushed aside as a free hit for Bearman. Nothing can really be expected of him in these circumstances, right? But it is nothing of the sort. It’s an unprecedented challenge that doubles as a phenomenal opportunity.

Bearman’s not a stand-in who can treat this as a bonus. It’s an audition. Not for a full-time Ferrari drive, but a permanent F1 seat somewhere.

This is a driver whose primary ambition for 2024 was to get to F1 and who saw winning Formula 2, his main programme, as a means to that. F1 is the singular focus. You cannot separate that now. 

Ferrari clearly has huge faith in Bearman, otherwise he would not have been made a reserve in the first place. But to count on him on a weekend like this, when he has been racing in F2 rather than embedded in the team, rather than having a ‘safe pair of hands’ to turn to, speaks volumes.

Bearman can be trusted to take this in his stride. Despite his age, his maturity and professionalism has impressed his junior single-seater team Prema, Ferrari and also Haas, who he drove Friday practice sessions for last year. Those efforts earned him a reserve role for Haas this season too and put him in the frame for a race seat there in the future.

He has, so far, never overreached. It is all too easy to get carried away, especially for someone so young, but Bearman has been methodical. He will need to exhibit that restraint and judgement now, and impress by doing the job as well as possible in the circumstances, not by trying to impress. He has shown a clear capability of understanding the difference in the past. Now he needs to do it in the most remarkable situation imaginable.

Given his ability and potential, it was not absurd to think Bearman could start a Formula 1 race this year, or drive for Ferrari at some point in his career.

To tick both off right now, though, is a stunning turn of events. One that - like Verstappen - he can prove he is more ready for than his age would suggest.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks