Ollie Bearman: a talent visible from a young age

Thursday 14 March 2024

As one of the title hopefuls in FIA Formula 2, Oliver travelled to Saudi Arabia expecting success, but his eventual success looked different to his expectations.  

Arriving in the Kingdom Bearman was to contest the second round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship, and indeed took part in qualifying – even securing pole position. 

However, just hours later the 18-year-old Brit, who hails from Essex, was given a last-gasp call up from Ferrari to replace Carlos Sainz, who had been diagnosed with appendicitis. Bearman immediately went from the F2 paddock straight into the F1 seat, and then into qualifying.  

He arrived in the F1 paddock with only limited experience of F1 machinery. Bearman had his first F1 test at Ferrari’s private test track in 2023 as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy programme, before making a free practice debut at the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix with Haas F1 Team. He then participated in another free practice in Abu Dhabi with Haas and was nominated Ferrari and Haas reserve driver for the 2024 season. 

A reserve driver role is very rarely given a call up in an F1 season, but the experience of working in an F1 environment with access to the engineering channels, team personnel and the media scrutiny is worth its weight in gold. However Bearman was fortunate in Sainz’ misfortune and, despite never having driven the SF-24 before, was put in the car when the latter fell ill.  

After a rushed FP3, Bearman steered the Ferrari into an impressive P11 on the starting grid, ahead of seasoned veterans such as Kevin Magnussen, Daniel Ricciardo and Valterri Bottas. 

On one of the trickiest tracks of the year – the high-speed, close walled Jeddah Corniche circuit – Bearman excelled in the race, handling extreme pressure from Lewis Hamilton to claim P7, only the fourth person in history to mark points on their Ferrari debut – the others being Ignazio Giunti and Clay Regazzoni in 1970, and Arturo Merzario in 1972. Moreover, he was the first Brit to score points on a debut since Paul di Resta debuted for Force India in 2011. 

Bearman’s racing journey started in the UK in karting with the Bambino category for drivers aged 6 – 7. He then moved into the ultra competitive Honda Cadet class, racing mainly in the south of England. Aged just 11 he then started racing in the Mini Class. 

Motorsport UK Head of Karting, Dan Parker, can remember seeing the young Ollie on track in the early days: “Ollie was a really polite, nice young lad and he particularly shone during the races where you needed to be able to read a race – understanding when to push or when to go with the pack in the Cadet class. I spent a whole day with him testing tyres at a foggy and damp track and he had the ability to drive consistently all day was super impressive. 

“He was supported by his dad and other family members, who were really passionate about the karting business – especially dad! There’s a lot of noise and competition within the karting paddocks, but it all seemed to pass Ollie by – he was able just to concentrate on his racing and leave the arguing to the grown-ups!” 

An ability that seems to have served him well on his F1 debut.  

Bearman then moved to compete in the National Championships, where he managed a best finish of second in 2016 and 2017, driving in the Honda Cadet category. Parker again picks up the story: “It was an unconventional route to take at that point in time. Many karters will move up through a well-established ladder racing in Europe from a young age then race in the FIA OK Kart Classes, but Ollie went through the traditional British Honda Cadet Classes then onto the Mini Class and then finally Junior. He then raced in both IAME and Rotax Classes before making the move into F4, which just shows that there can be a credible pathway from these classes to cars.” 

Bearman’s talent was clear as he smashed the competition in 2019 and 2020 on the international scene in karting, and then into German and Italian F4 in 2020. 

Motorsport UK Sporting and Safety Director, John Ryan, recalls seeing Ollie in Monza, competing in the last round of the 2021 Italian F4 Championship: “We regularly keep track of our up and coming drivers competing on the international scene – you do see talent emerging and if it’s needed then we can provide support or guidance.  

“With Ollie it was clear he had talent. I remember seeing him on track in Italy. It was wet and dry at the same time as the conditions kept changing, but it really did not seem to stress him out at all. In fact he absolutely excelled – he seemed to know exactly where the grip was and how hard he could push. I believe he was the only driver able to stay on track at the first famous chicane where many misjudge their braking distances in such conditions taking to the relief road. That’s a mark of a great driver, and even though young, he was so calm. His driving skills in the changing conditions were from the Senna text book. Ollie went on to win all three races that weekend – adding the Italian championship to his win in German F4. 

“I also recall speaking to a senior member of the Ferrari team shortly after this race where it was confirmed that Ollie would be making the jump straight to FIA F3. Ollie proved that he was more than ready – as he did jumping into F1 with no notice!”  

After the hop up to F3 in 2022, where he claimed third overall, it was then to F2. It was all looking promising, until the F1 call up and now, it seems, the sky is the limit…  

Parker finishes: “I think we were all really proud to see Ollie in the car, but then to do so well in the race was magic. I wasn’t surprised he did well as I’d seen how calm and composed he could be, yet still aggressive. It was also great to see his dad getting so involved – when you know the family from a young age it does feel like you’re all in it together – his expressions definitely reflected how we all felt about that debut!” 

While the talent is now extremely clear, it’s also the humility that shines through for John: “Although he’s clearly developing into a superstar, Ollie still has his feet to the ground and gives back to the sport. He was a highlight for many aspiring kart drivers at the last round of the British Kart Championship in 2023 where spent the weekend in the paddock and even stayed behind to present the trophies.”  

A star in the ascendancy indeed.