Ollie Bearman holding a P1 sign and pumping his fist, shot from the front

How Ferrari junior Bearman blitzed the field in Baku to break F2 records

Having entered the fourth round of the 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship with just three points, Prema Racing’s Ollie Bearman departed Baku with 41 points and two winner’s trophies after topping every session of the weekend for the first time in modern F2 history. This is the story of the record-breaking round that kickstarted the 17-year-old rookie’s championship challenge.

By Tyler Foster

At Baku, Bearman became the 11th driver to win every race in a weekend across F2, its predecessor series GP2, and offshoot series GP2 Asia. Moreover, by leading practice and taking pole, he also became one of just three drivers since 2005 to top every session in an F2 or GP2 weekend and the first to do so in 127 rounds, when Davide Valsecchi led every session in GP2’s first Bahrain round of 2012.

“From the outside, it looked like a flawless weekend,” Bearman told Feeder Series and selected media on Sunday, less than an hour after completing his historic weekend sweep. “It was far from it, but I’m really happy to take home almost maximum points and get our championship started.”

The Ferrari Driver Academy member and F3 graduate missed out on the fastest lap in the feature race – the only point he sacrificed all weekend. Yet for a few tense moments towards the end of qualifying on Friday, Bearman, and everyone else in the paddock, thought he had sacrificed far more.

With about four minutes left in the session, Bearman experienced a moment of oversteer on a flying lap and tapped the concrete wall at the exit of Turn 2. It seemed he might have gotten away with it, but footage from the T-cam showed that the Briton’s steering wheel was now tilted approximately 15 degrees to the right.

Bearman admitted that, facing right-rear suspension damage, he was prepared to enter the pits to end his session early. His race engineer Antoine Okla, who masterminded Mick Schumacher and Oscar Piastri to Prema’s last two F2 drivers’ titles, urged his young racer to stay out.

It proved to be an inspired decision on Okla’s part. Bearman shot to the top of the timesheets with his final flying lap – just 0.012 seconds ahead of Rodin Carlin’s Enzo Fittipaldi.

Antoine Oklà (left) and Ollie Bearman (right) stand on the podium holding trophies and sparkling wine bottles
Antoine Okla’s decision to keep Ollie Bearman out despite car damage secured the Briton’s pole position | Credit: Prema Racing

“I don’t know if you saw my pole lap,” Bearman joked on Sunday, “but I was turning right for the entire time, so I made my life a bit difficult! It could have been much worse. Especially with these tracks with walls, I need to leave a bit of margin.”

This tough lesson may have been a blessing in disguise for Bearman, who now knew the limits of the 6.003-kilometre anticlockwise Baku City Circuit. He also understood that high attrition was likely in Saturday’s sprint race, which he was set to start ninth following a post-qualifying penalty for Théo Pourchaire.

Bearman initially took a cautious approach to the sprint race, overtaking only Fittipaldi before Ralph Boschung crashed directly in front of him to bring out the first safety car of the race. When that was withdrawn at the end of Lap 5, Bearman began his charge in earnest, passing Pourchaire, Jak Crawford and Jehan Daruvala on Laps 8, 9 and 10 while pumping in several fastest laps. His quickest attempt of all on Lap 14 – right before the safety car was deployed for a second time – ultimately earned him an extra point.

“It was a bit of a crazy race, to be honest, like they always are here. Opening laps, I was just trying to keep my nose clean, which was the goal,” Bearman explained in the press conference after Saturday’s race. “Once it opened up and everyone pulled a gap, we saw I had quite strong pace. I was able to come through a bit, and the final safety car [restart], we saw what happened there.”

As drivers struggled for grip at the second restart at the end of Lap 18, several, including leader Dennis Hauger and second-placed Victor Martins, crashed out spectacularly at Turn 1. But neither of the two Premas – Frederik Vesti in third and Bearman in fourth – fell into the melee, meaning that they inherited a 1-2.

With six cars abandoned in Turn 1 and a safety car imminent, Bearman had just a few corners to make the move. He couldn’t make it stick around the outside of Turn 3, but then Vesti ran wide at the exit of the Turn 4 right-hander and the 17-year-old seized the opportunity to snatch the lead. As they reached Turn 5 a few seconds later, the safety car was deployed, neutralising the race. It brought the field, which was led by Bearman, through the pit lane on Lap 21 to take the chequered flag.

A red, white and green Prema car photographed from the left while on track
Ollie Bearman | Credit: Prema Racing

“Everyone was deep in Turn 1. I knew it had happened in the past. It’s really tough to keep temperature in the tyres [during] the safety car. … I just saw cars flying and I managed to avoid [them], so that was nice and I found myself in P2. I was fighting with Fred in Sector 1. Of course, he’s my teammate and it’s only a sprint race. I did not want to risk everything, but I managed to get a good exit out of Turn 4 and just get ahead. And the safety car helped me a bit by coming out just then,” he said.

“[My expectations] weren’t to win, but we said before the race that you can do anything in this track, so don’t discount yourself.”

“My expectations] weren’t to win, but we said before the race that you can do anything in this track, so don’t discount yourself.

Ollie Bearman

Feeder Series asked both Bearman and Vesti for their thoughts on the timing of the safety car deployment by race director Rui Marques, which enabled them to battle for just long enough that the lead changed hands.

“My answer is quite obvious: I enjoyed that!” Bearman replied with a laugh. “It was only a matter of time for the safety car to come out, so you had to act fast. I think it’s nice. I wouldn’t be mad if I was on the other side of that because it’s not dangerous. The crash is in Turn 1; we had a lot of time to slow down. I have no problem with that and of course I benefitted this time, so I won’t complain.”

Vesti agreed. “There is no incident ahead on the track, so we can race, and in the end sometimes it’s for your advantage. Sometimes, being in P1 is obviously difficult then, with the slipstream and so on, but then if the track is clear, it’s ok to race for a few sectors.”

Bearman did not have much time to revel in his maiden F2 victory, with his focus squarely on a feature race expected to be similarly dramatic. Yet in a surprising turn of events considering Saturday’s 11 retirements – the highest number in the second tier since the inaugural race at Baku in 2016 – the safety car was not deployed during any of the 29 laps run on Sunday.

What wasn’t surprising given Bearman’s sprint race performance, though, was his commanding victory in the feature race. Other than a brief battle with Pourchaire in the opening stages of the race, the Englishman maintained complete control of proceedings. While Pourchaire remains F2’s youngest winner courtesy of his victory at 17 years and 275 days in Monaco in 2021, Bearman – who turns 18 on 8 May – holds the rare distinction of being the only driver in the history of the championship to win two races before turning 18.

Enzo Fittipaldi, Ollie Bearman and Théo Pourchaire on the podium holding their drinks and trophies
Bearman is now the second driver after Théo Pourchaire (right) to win in F2 before turning 18 | Credit: Prema Racing

The Baku weekend lifted Bearman from 16th in the championship to fourth, 24 points behind current leader Pourchaire. The results from both him and Vesti, who finished the feature race fourth, also catapulted Prema to the top of the teams’ championship ahead of their home round at Imola from 19–21 May. It caps off an astounding turnaround for an outfit that sat 11th and last after the opening round in Bahrain.

“It’s the moment I started scoring points,” Bearman said when asked about what the Baku round could herald for his title chances. “Now I’m heading to Europe, where I know the tracks, so hopefully that will help me out a bit as well.”

He also recognised that his Baku weekend was likely an anomaly.

“A double win is not something that I could do consistently or anyone could do consistently,” he said. “I need to keep up this good pace and good results. Compared to Australia, I’ve changed my approach a bit to driving this car – which is a bit less forgiving, I would say, than the F3 – because I made quite a few mistakes in the early part of the season.”

A double win is not something that I could do consistently or anyone could do consistently. … I need to keep up this good pace and good results

Ollie Bearman

Even with his glittering résumé – highlighted by a third-place finish in FIA F3 last year and dual titles in Italian F4 and ADAC F4 in 2021 – Bearman faced a steep learning curve in stepping up to F2 this year. In Bahrain, struggles with tyre management derailed his debut weekend. He fell victim to an out-of-control Pourchaire in the Jeddah sprint race before tyre wear issues resurfaced in the feature, from which he skidded out of contention after starting second and leading the first seven laps. Despite crashing in wet conditions in Melbourne, he qualified sixth and finished the sprint race seventh, but two penalties meant he took no points from the feature race.

Bearman will always lack a year or more of experience relative to the established F2 cadre. However, the Ferrari junior’s conquest of Baku on his first visit shows that his and Prema’s combined strength offers more than enough compensation.

“There [were] a few things that went against me or stuff that was outside of my control at the start of the season,” Bearman told Feeder Series. “We are looking ahead, and I’m just looking to minimise mistakes from my side. I know the team will always give me a car to fight for the victory. I need to do my job, and we’ll be there scoring points.”

Ollie Bearman, photographed from the rear, standing on his car pumping his fists while the Prema team faces him celebrating
Credit: Prema Racing

Header photo credit: Prema Racing


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