A spectacular ending to the Formula 2 qualifying session in Baku saw Prema Racing’s Ollie Bearman take his maiden pole. Speaking to Feeder Series and selected media after the race, the British driver admitted to a mistake that could have proved costly.
By Tyler Foster
The weekend started perfectly for Bearman, who was the fastest on track in practice. But the 17-year-old almost jeopardised his brilliant all-round showing by scraping the barriers at Turn 2 towards the end of qualifying, incurring some damage to the right rear. Despite a wonky steering arm, Bearman was given the command to continue by his engineer. Ultimately, this paid off as he put in an incredible flying lap at the death to secure pole.
“I was really not expecting it. I’m sure everyone knows why I had a bit of damage on my car. I was actually ready to pit after my first lap and then I actually did pole on the second one. Thanks to the team for making me stay out,” Bearman said.
“I was really ready to pit. … The car was not straight, so I did really not think I could do a lot more. The team reassured me that with the fuel going down and everything, the track getting faster, that no matter what, I would improve. So I decided to go for it. The car was actually really scary because it was turning right to go straight. That made my life quite difficult, but I just went for it and it was enough.”
I decided to go for it. The car was actually really scary because it was turning right to go straightOllie Bearman
While this result came as a surprise to everyone given the circumstances, including Bearman himself, he made clear that Prema has always had pace around Baku, making them one of the favourites coming into the weekend.
In 2022, Dennis Hauger took the feature race victory for the team, while in 2021, the team secured a double podium in the feature with Oscar Piastri and Robert Shwartzman, who also won the first sprint race. In 2016, Prema’s first season in the second tier, Antonio Giovinazzi took a rare double victory at the circuit, a feat not emulated in GP2 or F2 until reigning champion Felipe Drugovich’s double victory in Spain last year.
“I knew coming into the weekend that we had a fast car. The team has always been really strong here in the past, so I knew I would be fighting at the front. We just had to put it together and I managed to, just about, in that qualifying session, so I’m really happy to be going on the front row for the feature race.”
When asked how he achieved such a moment with damaged steering, Bearman pointed to his “confidence in the car” around the unique layout of the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital. He stated that his faith in Prema’s package in the braking zones was “key to being strong at this track.”
The challenges between pole and victory
Bearman may have a sprint race to handle first, but his focus will be on Sunday’s 29-lap feature race. Bearman will start on the front row in a feature race for the second time this season, but he and others in the fight for victory will face constant reminders of the unique challenges of and dangers around Baku’s streets.
“There’s always a lot of action at this track for obvious reason,” Bearman told Feeder Series. “Safety car restart is obviously quite difficult. You have a two-kilometre straight, so of course you don’t want to go early. The [driver behind] will just overtake you easily. We saw in the past there was some mess in the safety car restart. It’s not ideal, but I think it’s kind of a feature of the track. I just have to make sure everyone plays clean, and [it] should be ok.”
Bearman’s introduction to F2 has been a tough one with no points in the opening round and only one in Jeddah despite a second-place start in the feature. He may have just five points from the opening three rounds, but this pole position highlights his raw talent. Given the competitiveness of the grid, the Briton faces additional pressure to convert his grid spot into a solid haul of points and get his season on the right track.
“Especially this year, the level is really high, which is great,” he told Feeder Series, “considering since 2018, the same car has been used and there’s still so many people at the top. It’s always a lottery going into the weekend. On our side, it’s quite tough – you don’t know where you’re going to be – but it’s good that the level is the highest you can get. I’ll say for sure it’s the highest-level championship I’ve competed in.”
Header photo credit: Scuderia Ferrari
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