What to expect from Bearman’s F1 debut in Saudi Arabian GP

Oliver Bearman will start the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP on pole position after taking over from Carlos Sainz at Ferrari

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It takes a lot to impress Max Verstappen. This is the driver who reacted to his then-teammate Alex Albon scoring his first Formula 1 podium after several heartbreaking near-misses by saying: “I don’t think that if you are 30 or 40 seconds behind your team-mate, that’s very good, I can just be honest about that, right? It was a shame for Checo too, I think he drove a very strong race.”

He showed a similar amount of sympathy for Perez himself as the Mexican struggled at Red Bull in 2023, which is why it came as such a surprise to hear Verstappen gush so wholeheartedly about Oliver Bearman‘s performance standing in for Carlos Sainz at the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

With only a few hours to prepare and just 60 minutes in the Ferrari SF-24 on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit before qualifying, Bearman finished a commendable 11th and was just 0.037 seconds away from reaching Q3 ahead of making his full grand prix debut.

“It’s super hard to jump in on a track like this, and I think what he’s done has been very very impressive,” Verstappen told the media. “I was watching his first few laps in FP3, because that’s where you can judge if someone is a bit comfortable or not in the car. And by lap two or lap three I was like, yeah that’s a strong start, I like to see that.

“To be P11, I think only six-tenths off pole at the time is more than you could’ve asked from him. So yeah he’s done an incredible job for sure and I hope he also enjoyed it a little bit out there.

“It’s quite stressful when you come into basically a new team and a new car without any experience and at this track so yeah, hopefully he’s happy with himself because I think everyone within the paddock has seen that he did a he did a great job.”

That’s just the start of the hard work for Bearman though – he’s now got to navigate 50 laps of one of the most challenging tracks in elite single-seater racing in the spermatic form of the 27-corner Jeddah Corniche Circuit. So how high can he rise?

Oliver Bearman poses in Ferrari red ahead of his F1 debut at the 2024 Saudi Arabian GP | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Bearman has proven ability to fight for top result

Bearman has already shown he has the pace to get points in a clean race this weekend. His race simulation on the medium tyre was ultra-competitive, as he finished a 16-lap stint by averaging 1:32.543 across his final two circumnavigations – pace that matches up with the corresponding points in Hamilton‘s FP3 long run.

It’s really difficult to analyse his timesheets given every single lap Bearman drove was with significantly more experience of the SF-24 than his last and a lot of teams didn’t do a race simulation in FP3, but what little data we can extrapolate is positive.

Yuki Tsunoda and Lance Stroll should struggle to hold off the Ferrari while the Mercedes – or at least Hamilton – could also be vulnerable or Fernando Alonso may fall through the order as Aston Martin‘s tyre degradation looks shaky.

Then there’s the nature of the track – the first two Saudi Arabian GPs saw a combined 12 drivers fail to finish and safety cars shaking up the order are far from uncommon.

AlphaTauri weren’t competitive at the 2023 Dutch GP and substitute Liam Lawson understandably took his time to find a groove after also only having one practice session to prepare, but he hit his stride late benefitting from a chaotic race to finish 12th on debut – better than anything Nyck de Vries managed with far more opportunity and preparation.

And based on junior formula pedigree, Bearman is even more talented than the Kiwi. He’s certainly excelled on street circuits – the 2023 Jeddah F2 round was just his second-ever weekend in the championship and didn’t really go to plan but he made amends for that in 2024 by taking pole position this time around.

And don’t forget that Bearman became the first driver in F2 history to take both sprint and feature race victory on the same circuit in just his fourth round – At Baku of all places.

He’s ferocious in wheel-to-wheel racing too, adept at putting the pressure on from behind before pouncing there’s a hint that the door could be ajar.

Anything could happen, but there’s more than a little reason to believe that Verstappen could be heaping more praise on Bearman before F1 leaves Saudi Arabia… over to you, Ollie.

Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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