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Formula 1

What Ferrari must do with new F1 star it has no room for

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Ferrari had a plan to get Ollie Bearman into Formula 1. It did not involve the 18-year-old making his debut mid-weekend early in 2024 - for Ferrari itself.

Bearman’s status as Ferrari’s leading junior driver, and his obvious potential, meant it was never out of the question he would follow Charles Leclerc’s example and become the next protege to race for Ferrari in F1 one day.

Now he’s done so several years ahead of schedule, which gives Ferrari an interesting headache. Is its original plan for Bearman still enough?

Finishing seventh in Saudi Arabia did little to alter Ferrari’s perception of Bearman, insofar as it was already well aware of his potential. So was Haas after some fine work from Bearman last year in Friday practice outings. That is why he looks nailed on for a Haas race seat in 2025 and 2026.

Having seen the job Bearman did first-hand in Jeddah, Leclerc claimed it’s now just “a matter of time” before he is in F1 permanently. That’s surely not in question. And the answer of ‘when’ is no later than 2025. But the details beyond that are tricky.

Ferrari had no designs on giving him a full-time race seat itself until quite a way into the future. It was going to keep Carlos Sainz alongside Charles Leclerc for the next couple of seasons, then pulled off the blockbuster signing of Lewis Hamilton for 2025 instead.

Whichever path Ferrari had taken, Bearman wasn’t in the short-term picture. What Ferrari wanted was for Bearman to win Formula 2 this year, be placed in another F1 team to serve his apprenticeship for at least a couple of seasons, then get a call-up to partner Leclerc once he had proven himself.

He’s gone some way to doing that already, though. Now Bearman’s signalled his ability to a wider audience, things might be a little less clear-cut. Not that Ferrari now needs to be desperately re-evaluating its choices and work out how to get Bearman in its car full-time next year.

But is it bad for Haas, as another team could be minded to seek a loan deal instead? And is it a complication for Ferrari, if it has nowhere more competitive to put Bearman for a few years yet, and others now know how good he is?

First and foremost, Ferrari will be delighted with what it saw from Bearman up-close in his F1 debut rather than immediately worry what it now needs to do with such an asset. And Ferrari has tentatively indicated that, for now, nothing changes. Bearman’s main focus must stay on F2. He needs to try to make up ground in that championship.

There’s an irony in the fact that Bearman had to withdraw from his F2 commitments in Jeddah, where he had scored pole position, to make his F1 debut, which meant he’s now last in a championship he started the year probably needing to win, to guarantee he’d get to make his F1 debut.

"The best way to help him is to not draw conclusions," Vasseur said on the evening of the Jeddah race.

"We have to take it easy, he will have other opportunities during the season to do FP1, to test the car and we will do it properly.

"The main focus is, and will stay, F2 - this season he has a huge challenge and I will keep in mind he was on pole position [for F2's Jeddah race] and I killed the weekend for him in F2!

"But he has a huge challenge in F2 and it's the first challenge of the season."

Obviously, the Saudi weekend turned into a much bigger step towards an eventual full-time F1 seat than breathing life into his F2 title challenge would have been.

So is it still a case of paying his dues, being patient, continuing to improve - and then what? ‘See where you end up in a few years?’

Bearman might be a bit too good to do that. Ferrari turfed Kimi Raikkonen out to make room for Leclerc after only one season in F1. But Hamilton isn’t Raikkonen. He’s a marquee signing likely to still be performing at a higher level than Raikkonen was by 2018 when Ferrari made that decision.

This is not about whether Ferrari’s blocking Bearman’s path to its team by bringing in Hamilton, though. As it stands, the 2025 and 2026 Ferrari line-up is immense. But it’s a relevant factor in how Ferrari manages what’s best for Bearman’s development while also ensuring it retains him as a long-term option for the team.

For example, a couple of years at Haas fighting competitively in the midfield is probably OK. But a couple of years of 2023-level Haas is a waste. Jettisoning Hamilton, or suddenly deciding Leclerc’s not worth it, after just 2025 isn’t going to happen. And what if the Hamilton/Leclerc line-up is excelling by 2026 and Ferrari wants to keep it going?

As Mercedes found by sending George Russell on loan to Williams for three years, that kind of move can quickly run out of value, even though there’s always something to be learned.

Perhaps the more appropriate comparison to draw is Oscar Piastri’s Alpine/McLaren saga from 2022. We saw there what can happen if a highly rated driver lacks the necessary clarity and support from their parent team. Young drivers need to be patient to a degree but it can backfire if they are just parked somewhere without a proper path to something bigger.

Bearman should - with the emphasis on should - have a much clearer path to Ferrari and stronger faith from his parent team than Piastri had from Alpine, though.

So, maybe the timeline is still fine, and a two-year Haas apprenticeship still works - and the main thing Ferrari needs to ensure is that Bearman knows he will not just spend the next couple of years waiting for a tomorrow that never comes.

Because if Ferrari fails to react appropriately to Bearman’s statement debut, he will not be short of interested alternatives.

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