Oliver Bearman on a whirlwind 2023 and his glimpse into F1 life with Ferrari and Haas
Once 2023 kicked off for Oliver Bearman, it only got busier and busier. The Ferrari Driver Academy star has just completed his rookie Formula 2 campaign and the year also gave him his first glimpse into life as an F1 driver.
Bearman was at the wheel for Haas at the Mexico City and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix while he completed a test away from the spotlight with Ferrari at the team’s famed test circuit in Fiorano.
From the word go, finding the ideal balance has been tricky but there has scarcely been a weekend in which Bearman hasn’t had a smile on his face, whatever he’s been at the wheel of.
“It's definitely been the busiest year of my life in terms of balancing things,” the 18-year-old says after finally getting a chance to catch his breath in Abu Dhabi. “I've been super busy on the simulator and, of course, doing some F1 driving at the end of the year alongside my full F2 campaign, so it's been a busy one. But I won't complain. I will never complain about being busy.”
From preparing his rookie season in Formula 2 over the winter of 2022 into the early year of 2023, then pre-season testing alongside his Ferrari Academy duties, the season only got more intensive.
It’s even more impressive then that as a rookie in Formula 2, Bearman has starred throughout. He well and truly announced his arrival by becoming the first driver in Championship history to top every session across a single weekend. Claiming pole and winning both the Sprint and Feature Races in Baku, he missed a maximum score by a single fastest point lap.
It's those types of performances that have caught the eye of the F1 paddock, and Bearman was soon in the frame for Free Practice 1 sessions with Haas, an extension of his work with Ferrari. He was pleased to have been put to the test in such an intensive year.
“It's been a great year,” he continues. “Tough to manage everything, but I'm kind of getting used to it and it's only going to continue like that. So, a year like this was needed. It's necessary to be able to adapt.
“They (Haas) have to fulfil the obligation of two rookie FP1s, and they chose me to do them, which was really a pleasure to find out about that news and to be able to carry out some F1 practice.
“Before and during the season, I've been doing some work for them on the simulator, so that relationship has been developing already, and then to jump in the real car and correlate it to the sim, that was really nice.”
Achieving some form of equilibrium was always going to be tricky but the British driver has taken to his work with a hugely positive attitude.
With four wins in his first F2 campaign, Bearman could hardly be accused of taking his eye off the ball, while Haas were vocal with how impressed they were with his FP1 undertakings.
The level of dedication was on full display on the final race weekend of 2023 as he swapped PREMA F2 machinery for the Haas VF-23 before going back again in a single day. Despite the size of the challenge, Bearman hasn’t shied away from increasing his responsibilities.
“The document for learning the F1 car was 30 or 40 pages long, so there’s a lot of stuff for me to learn, some stuff I still don’t know but the main things were covered,” Bearman explains. “I was pretty good with all the switch changes and that sort of stuff.
“We've been working really hard together, and we covered a lot of important miles for the team. There wasn’t a lot of time on the F1 weekend to test so they were doing a lot of work with me on Tuesday during the post-season test also.
“I probably underestimated the challenge of doing that in one day but coming back for the first day of the post-season test, I was straight on the pace because I knew what to look out for.”
Having had the opportunity to embed himself within the team during the Mexico City race weekend, Bearman says getting the chance to learn up close was a new but key undertaking for him. Being on the ground with the team as well as learning from Kevin Magnussen in particular was a hugely vital experience ahead of his F1 bow.
Carrying out extensive simulator work with Ferrari and Haas in the build up was useful, but the Briton says it will never compare to the real experience. Having Magnussen’s guidance that weekend was an added bonus and a decisive learning opportunity.
“F1 is the pinnacle,” he says. “It's the fastest car on the planet. The sim taught me a lot but obviously it's a bit more difficult to get confidence in the car in real life.
“If you make a mistake in the sim, it's not really a huge price to pay. But there's nothing like the real thing.
“I worked more closely with Kevin, and he gave me a lot of insight about the F1 car, especially in Mexico. It’s quite a unique track, so that was really helpful and nice to build a relationship with him and learn from him because, they're super experienced and super quick guys.”
With the 2023 campaign finally in the books, focus immediately switches onto next season and one Bearman hopes will only build on his work from this year.
Another year in F2 beckons, but after experiencing Formula 1, the Ferrari Academy driver hopes to make some more waves in 2024 and give the paddock something to talk about in the near future.
“I don't know anything yet but hopefully I did some decent enough performances to warrant another go,” he says. “The team seems pretty happy, so hopefully I can get another opportunity sooner rather than later.”