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Ollie Bearman steals the spotlight from Max Verstappen in their debut F1 race in Saudi Arabia.
F1 Sport

Ollie Bearman steals the spotlight from Max Verstappen in their debut F1 race in Saudi Arabia.

Max Verstappen secured the top spot in qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but all eyes in Jeddah were on the impressive debut of 18-year-old British driver Oliver Bearman in the world of Formula One.

Replacing the injured Carlos Sainz at Ferrari, Bearman displayed great composure and ability to secure 11th place on the starting lineup and showcase his talent.

This Saturday, Bearman will make history as the youngest British driver to participate in an F1 race. He will also be the first English driver to represent Ferrari since Nigel Mansell in 1990. Bearman was unexpectedly chosen by Ferrari on Friday when Sainz was diagnosed with appendicitis. Sainz has already had a successful surgery.

Verstappen took a deserved pole, that much was all too ­predictable and it was ominous again, three-tenths clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in second, with Red Bull’s ­Sergio Pérez third but it was ­Bearman who caught the eye.

His performance was enormously impressive, particularly on the high-speed and demanding Jeddah circuit which is unforgiving and intimidating. Given he was in a car he had never driven before until on Friday and having previously completed only two hours of practice in F1, this was a hugely confident statement of intent for a driver who will likely earn an F1 seat next season.

“I woke up focused on my F2 race, but ended up unexpectedly participating in the FP3 and qualifying sessions,” he stated. “Although I was a bit disappointed with the outcome, it was still a great experience and an enjoyable day on the track.”

“In Formula 2, you push the car to its limits, but in Formula 1, you push yourself to your personal limits. It’s about what the driver is capable of, and it’s an exhilarating sensation. It may take some adjustment, but it’s a fantastic experience.”

The skill he showcased was not surprising, however this was anticipated. Bearman is currently participating in F2 for this season, but was chosen as Ferrari’s backup driver and has always promised impressive achievements.

In 2023, he participated in a practice session in Mexico for Haas and quickly showed a natural talent for handling the challenges of driving an F1 car. Despite being in a slower car than the double world champion Fernando Alonso, he finished the session faster. He was only 1.6 seconds behind Verstappen, who dominated the race track all season long.

Bearman hails from a lineage of racers, with his grandfather, uncle, and father all being competitors. He began karting in 2013 at the age of eight. In 2021, he triumphed in both the German and Italian F4 championships before being signed by Ferrari as a member of their academy. Following a single season in F3, he made the jump to F2 last year, where he secured sixth place overall. This season, he will once again compete in the championship with the Prema team.

On Friday he had only one practice session to drive the track before qualifying but the teenager from Chelmsford adapted with alacrity and skill to an intense and high-pressure environment. In Q1 he delivered a solid run as he got to grips with the track to claim ninth. During the second session he was pushing hard and made two small errors but put in an immense effort on his final run only to miss out on making it to Q3 by three-hundredths of a second.

During the intense situation surrounding Red Bull and their team leader Christian Horner, Verstappen stayed composed and performed well on the track. His lead was impressively large once again. Despite the first race in Bahrain being seen as an anomaly in terms of performance, Verstappen’s dominance in Jeddah showed the speed potential of their car across different tracks, similar to their successes in the previous season where they won 21 out of 22 races.

Without a doubt, Leclerc and the Ferrari team will put in their best effort to challenge them. However, all signs point to Red Bull and Verstappen once again being formidable opponents to beat on Saturday.

Doriane Pin, a French driver, dominated the first race of the second season of the all-female F1 Academy series in Jeddah, winning from start to finish. This year, there are 10 drivers representing each F1 team. Pin, representing Mercedes, held off second place finisher Abbi Pulling of Alpine, and third place finisher Maya Weug of Ferrari.

At the recent race, Mercedes’ lineup consisted of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in seventh and eighth place respectively. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso secured fourth place, while McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris came in fifth and sixth. Red Bull’s Yuki Tsunoda finished in ninth place and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll claimed 10th place.

Nico Hülkenberg of the Haas team experienced a power issue and placed 15th, while his teammate Kevin Magnussen came in 13th. Williams’ Alex Albon took 12th place, while RB’s Daniel Ricciardo finished in 15th position.

Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou were ranked 16th and 20th respectively for Sauber, while Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly held 17th and 18th place for Alpine and Logan Sargeant placed 19th for Williams.

Source: theguardian.com