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Formula 1

These broken F1 careers should be a warning to Bearman

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

Ollie Bearman's magical Formula 1 debut has made him grand prix racing's star of the hour, a breath of fresh air amid a competitively stale start to the 2024 season.

This is richly deserved. And there is nothing wrong with not just praising what he did in Jeddah - which was, again, fantastic - but trying to project and anticipate what he can do, what he can be to Ferrari or Haas,  is a perilous task.

His assured debut - at the age of 18, with no mileage in the car and a deficit of two practice sessions (particularly brutal at a high-speed track with walls and blind corners) - also risks being fodder for people who feel F1 is now just too easy.

But there's a counter-argument to that which, while reinforcing F1's credentials as a truly relentless challenge, also underlines why projecting Bearman's grand prix career must come with massive caveats.

He has earned himself an F1 career - that much seems pretty clear. But he has not yet earned himself a good one.


The last time a stand-in debutant went up against an established star on short notice, it was career-making.

Stoffel Vandoorne rocked up to Bahrain on short notice with McLaren regular Fernando Alonso unfit after a crash, and proceeded to outqualify the team's other world champion full-timer Jenson Button.

He then scored a point in his debut race. Considering this had come after he dominated Formula 1's feeder series GP2 the previous year, it seemed to 100% ensure that he would be getting a full season with McLaren in F1.

Yes, a scuffed qualifying by Button was required to put an extra 'oomph' on Vandoorne's weekend, and it wasn't the peak version of Button, who was ahead anyway in the race when he retired with an ERS failure.

Those were very different circumstances to the ones Bearman faced. But that's not really the point.

The point is, Vandoorne proved he belonged and that McLaren could trust him. He was in the car full-time the following year.

He then, famously, got destroyed by Alonso over the next two seasons and was out of F1.

With that outcome already known to us, it is tempting to suggest Vandoorne was never all that to begin with - but he was a beast on the junior ladder. If anything, he had a stronger junior record than Bearman does now, which is no shade on Bearman.

Junior open-wheel CVs compared

First year
Vandoorne - F4 Eurocup 1.6 champion (future French F4)
Bearman - 7th in German F4

Second year
Vandoorne - 5th in Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, 3rd in FR2.0 NEC
Bearman - Italian F4 and German F4 champion

Third year
Vandoorne - Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion
Bearman - 2nd in F3

Fourth year
Vandoorne - 2nd in Formula Renault 3.5
Bearman - 6th in F2

Fifth year
Vandoorne - 2nd in GP2
Bearman - F2 campaign ongoing

Vandoorne has had a good career after F1, becoming world champion in Formula E and landing a Hypercar drive, but his time in grand prix racing was unquestionably not what was promised.


Vandoorne also did at least get FP1 and FP2. Bearman didn't - but, then again, neither did Nyck de Vries.

The Dutchman's whole F1 saga is a more recent tale, so we'll keep it short, also because there's a world of difference between slotting into a Ferrari at Jeddah against Charles Leclerc and slotting into a Williams at Monza against Nicholas Latifi (even though it was effectively Williams's most important race of the season).

De Vries, equipped with some Williams FW44 knowledge courtesy of a practice session earlier in the season, beat Latifi and scored points - and suddenly F1 seemed to collectively remember how good he had been in karting and in his best moments in junior single-seaters.

Suddenly, Williams was an option, Alpine was sniffing around and ultimately Red Bull committed to him for its second team. But the goodwill of Monza, the excitement Red Bull felt about his built-in experience, seemed to evaporate by the Bahrain opener, and he didn't even make it to mid-season, beaten - predictably, to everyone but Red Bull - by Yuki Tsunoda.

So what?

None of that is to say that Bearman will fizzle out in F1, that Ferrari shouldn't even bother, that he's not really accomplished anything - any of that jazz.

He could not have reasonably done more in Jeddah, without the benefit of those extra two practice sessions like Vandoorne or an earlier-in-the-season runout like De Vries. He has shown he can be in F1 tomorrow.

Clearly, he has something of an affinity for Jeddah (second and first in his two qualifying outings in Formula 2 there), and you can never project track-to-track variance too well.

And it certainly did not test him like most tracks would've in terms of nursing Pirelli's capricious Formula 1 rubber.

Likewise, Ferrari - pressure aside - is probably a pretty good team to be debuting with, given a more compliant 2024 car and the sheer might of resources and knowledge it has relative to some of the middle-of-the-grid teams (although Bearman was also really convincing in the Haas in practice sessions in 2023).

Vandoorne's debut was arguably his high point in F1. De Vries' definitely was. And who else could you make that case for? Tsunoda? Probably a stretch, but feasible. Logan Sargeant? Yes, so far.

It positions F1 as 'easy to learn, hard to master', which is a fine thing for it to be. It's that weekend-to-weekend performance that really makes or breaks you.

And it's those last couple of tenths that will be the hardest for Bearman once he's on the grid.

There is no reason right now to think he won't find those tenths. But F1 can't be sure he will.

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