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Bearman’s built for the big-time

Formula 1 needed Ollie Bearman on Saturday. Ever since Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari was announced, all of the headlines surrounding the sport so far this year had been negative or controversial, and certainly not focused on matters of a racing nature.

Even when the attention was on the track, the ongoing dominance of Max Verstappen and Red Bull wasn’t exactly sparking huge levels of excitement among the majority of fans.

But then came Carlos Sainz’s misfortune; the Spaniard requiring surgery for appendicitis on Friday morning after having been battling through the ailment for both practice sessions the day before. Bearman got the call.

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For many, it came as a surprise. “Where is Robert Shwartzman when you need him?” was one question that was raised on our pre-race SiriusXM coverage. But with the greatest respect to Shwartzman – who I’m sure would also be an excellent stand-in if required – he wasn’t needed.

Bearman was jumping in at late notice, and what he achieved was remarkable given the circuit and the situation, but he has also been earmarked as a future F1 race driver long before this opportunity came his way.

For most F1 fans, he first came to their attention when he took part in his first FP1 session for Haas in Mexico City late last year. Bearman was competitive throughout when compared to teammate Nico Hulkenberg; the pair taking on the same run plans to allow a clear picture to build-up to, and only a big moment on his fastest lap prevented him potentially matching or even beating the German, who himself was having an impressive season.

A second FP1 appearance for Haas was already planned at that point, but if finishing sixth during his rookie season in the Formula 2 championship had threatened to slightly slow his progress, it was his time in an F1 car that accelerated Bearman’s path.

Spending the full weekend with the team in Qatar – before Mexico – Bearman shadowed his Haas race engineer Mark Slade to understand the way a driver and engineer work together. Then in Mexico, once he had driven the car he took a step back to have a wider understanding of how the team works and appreciate the complexity that comes with so many different roles.

Everything Bearman did at Haas impressed the team. He was calm and collected, and extremely mature in his approach behind the wheel. “No expectations” was his mantra for those FP1 sessions, as he wanted to make sure he didn’t put too much pressure on himself and just followed the directions he was given.

He did his reputation no harm during his Abu Dhabi outings too, as he took part in FP1 and the Young Driver Test for Haas. It was valuable mileage, but also a further chance to impress that made its way back to Maranello and helped earn Bearman the reserve driver role at Ferrari for this year.