Ollie Bearman really grabbed people’s attention when he won both the German and Italian Formula 4 championships in 2021. The teenager from Chelmsford had already enjoyed a successful karting career and won races in his first car-racing season during the COVID-19 pandemic, but winning the two toughest championships on the first rung of the F1 ladder with Van Amersfoort Racing put him on the map.

His family had a background in club racing and Bearman had originally meant to combine karting with F4 in 2020 because he wasn’t 15 until May. But the late start to the season because of COVID meant he didn’t have to miss any F4 rounds, providing the foundation for his outstanding 2021.

The then 16-year-old underlined his ability by taking a victory and three second places on a handful of BRDC F3 (now GB3) outings with Fortec Motorsports that same season. He finished a remarkable year by being selected as a finalist for the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award and becoming a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy.

After just two seasons in single-seaters, he also got an apartment in Maranello, where he did training and sim sessions, and joined the British Racing Drivers’ Club SuperStars programme as his career gathered momentum.

Some drivers go from F4 to GB3 or Formula Regional European but, having scored 18 victories across three series in 2021, Bearman jumped straight into F3. That meant going from a car with 160bhp to one with 380bhp, as well as a significant step up in downforce.

“To make the jump from winning the Italian and German F4 titles is something that can’t be underestimated,” said Bearman in 2022. “It’s a big step with a lot of new things that I needed to do.”

Bearman surpassed expectations in his F3 rookie season in 2022, effectively forcing Ferrari to give him a shot at F2 a year earlier than planned

Bearman surpassed expectations in his F3 rookie season in 2022, effectively forcing Ferrari to give him a shot at F2 a year earlier than planned

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Despite the leap, Bearman impressed on his debut with top team Prema Racing in the Bahrain opener, winning the first race on the road before losing out due to a track-limits penalty. There were no points next time out in Imola, but thereafter Bearman became a regular threat.

A run of five podiums in seven races, with the highlight of victory in the Spa sprint race, hauled him into title contention. In a chaotic Monza finale, Bearman rose from sixth to second and was challenging leader Zane Maloney when red flags flew. It meant he took third in the standings, just seven points behind champion and current Alpine Academy member Victor Martins.

Nevertheless, the rookie still beat his second-year F3 team-mates, Jak Crawford and Arthur Leclerc, brother of Ferrari star Charles. “He surpassed expectations on what is traditionally a tricky step up the ladder,” reckoned Autosport in our season review.

For the second consecutive year, Bearman’s performances also got him selected for the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award. Once again he impressed, narrowly losing out to current F3 points leader and Williams Driver Academy ace Luke Browning.

Bearman’s F3 efforts got him promoted to F2 ahead of schedule, staying with Prema to partner Frederik Vesti. The fact that Bearman very nearly won the F3 title as a rookie effectively forced Ferrari to put him into F2 because there’d have been nothing to gain from sticking around in F3 for another season. But that did mean facing another stern test.

Rising Danish star Vesti had won the 2019 Formula Regional European title, before Bearman had even made the step into single-seaters, and was already an F2 race winner.

Vesti battled the consistent Theo Pourchaire for the crown but it didn’t take long for Bearman to get on top of the 620bhp Dallara. The undoubted highlight was a stunning double victory around the high-speed Baku street circuit and Bearman added two more wins, both in feature races, at Barcelona and Monza to finish sixth in the standings. ART driver Martins, with one win to Bearman’s four, was the only F2 rookie to finish ahead in the championship, taking fifth.

Such a maiden campaign can often be a good launchpad for a title push in the second season, but two things have worked against Bearman this year. The first is the new Dallara F2 2024 machine, which single-seater powerhouse Prema has struggled to extract consistent pace from.

A weekend clean sweep in Baku helped Bearman make a strong impression in F2 last year

A weekend clean sweep in Baku helped Bearman make a strong impression in F2 last year

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Bearman and Mercedes protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli have only been sporadic points finishers. Bearman’s peaks, topped by victory in the Red Bull Ring sprint race, have arguably been higher, but his Italian team-mate is currently ahead in the championship.

The second, more positive, complication is Bearman’s F1 commitments. He’d already impressed Haas with his free practice and young driver test outings when he got a shock call-up for Ferrari at March’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

On Thursday 7 March, Bearman took F2 pole and headed to the Jeddah circuit the next day expecting to kick-start his championship challenge. But Carlos Sainz requiring surgery for appendicitis meant Bearman instead found himself jumping into a Ferrari SF-24 and going out for FP3 on a circuit F1 cars lap at over 150mph.

Bearman was 10th in that session, 0.698 seconds behind team leader Charles Leclerc. He then missed out on Q3 by just 0.036s, having closed the gap to Leclerc to 0.53s.

A combination of strategy and overtaking in the GP lifted Bearman from 11th to seventh, which he had to defend from Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton, neither of whom had stopped under the early safety car and lost out as a result. Bearman kept his composure to hold on to seventh, while Leclerc took third behind a Red Bull 1-2.

“The car was flying today so that is obviously a big bonus,” said Bearman. “But I think we executed a clean race, no mistakes, and that is exactly what we were looking for. I think I did a decent job.”

Others were more effusive. Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur called it a “mega weekend” from Bearman, while Leclerc said “it’s a matter of time before we see him permanently in F1”. “Heroic effort after being dropped in at the deep end,” was our conclusion as Autosport gave him 10/10 in our ratings.

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Subsequent FP1 outings for Haas at Imola and Barcelona have added to Bearman’s F1 momentum, even though his F2 campaign has remained tricky. Even the man himself has admitted the season has been one of “two halves”, but a Haas race seat for 2025 would indicate he’s nailed the bit that matters most.

Bearman has impressed in practice sessions for Haas and has a bright future in F1 ahead of him

Bearman has impressed in practice sessions for Haas and has a bright future in F1 ahead of him

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images