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‘I've never seen anything better than that' – Legendary engineer Jock Clear on Bearman's F1 debut

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JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - MARCH 8: Oliver Bearman of Great Britain and Ferrari in the garage prior to

Oliver Bearman has received high praise from the Head of Ferrari’s Driver Academy following his F1 debut at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, with the teenager predicted to get “better and better” after impressing on his rookie weekend.

Bearman received a last-minute call-up to step in at Ferrari ahead of Friday’s Free Practice 3 session in Jeddah, following the news that Carlos Sainz had been diagnosed with appendicitis. The 18-year-old went on to deliver an eye-catching performance, qualifying 11th on the grid before scoring points on debut by finishing the race in P7.

READ MORE: How hard is the step up from F2 to F1? Jolyon Palmer explains the challenge faced by Oliver Bearman in Jeddah

Clear – who heads up the Driver Academy for Ferrari and has worked with many famous names in the sport during his years as a race engineer – told the F1 Nation podcast that Bearman’s performance surpassed his expectations.

“I couldn't have hoped for a better weekend for Ollie,” he said. “If you'd written the script, you would have balked a bit at the final result because if you brought him to a Grand Prix and said two weeks ago, ‘you're going to do the Grand Prix in Saudi’, mentally he gets prepared for it.

“We can do some things, we can practice some starts, but when you drop him in on Friday morning, one free practice session and then you're into qualifying against the big boys, that's ominous. That's very, very intimidating for anybody.

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“I think, from our point of view, we're just very proud of how well he's integrated with the team, how well the team have supported him. There's so much information available. There's so much work to do in an F1 car. We've kept it simple.

“Matteo, the chief engineer, was, from the first get go, ‘just keep it simple for Ollie. There's lots of information available, but let's not overload him. Let's just let him get up to speed’. What you see is what we knew he was capable of but, boy, I didn't expect that under these circumstances.”

TIMELINE: Ollie Bearman’s ‘whirlwind’ 24 hours in Jeddah that saw him go from F2 pole to F1 debut

Clear believes that making his debut at the high-speed, 27-corner Jeddah Corniche Circuit made the task even more challenging for Bearman, given the nature of the track along with the high temperatures and humidity.

“He's done very well here in his F2 career. He was on the front row last year and he put it on pole in F2 on Thursday here, so it's obviously a circuit he's comfortable with,” Clear explained. “But that's a whole different matter when you’ve got to qualify a car that you don't know very well because, let's be straight, he's driven a couple of tests with us, he's done some running in Fiorano, but all with old cars.

Jock Clear before qualifying ahead of the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix at Autodromo Nazionale di

Clear has worked with many successful drivers in the sport over the years, including 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve

“He hasn't driven this car. This is the first time he's driven this car. To go out there and qualify in Saudi, where those walls are quite tight and a lot of the seasoned F1 drivers are saying, ‘this track is scary’, and those walls are quite close to you, that's intimidating in itself.

“The pressure on him in Q2 – you've locked up on your first set, you've now got a second set to try and get through to Q3 – that's when it shows that this is a different level and that was the point where it got a bit messy. But he did a great job to put it P11 anyway. That was beyond our expectations.”

TREMAYNE: Bearman’s F1 debut was one of the most accomplished and impressive I’ve witnessed in 36 years of F1 reporting

In terms of Bearman’s performance in Saturday night’s Grand Prix, Clear hailed the Briton for his “intelligent” drive.

“I’ve often said about Oliver, he will get better and better the closer he gets to F1, because F1 recognises real intelligence,” said Clear. “Drivers that can think their way around situations really, really shine in F1. Ollie is super sharp, super clever, and I think that's what he's demonstrated this week.

“We know he's quick. We've seen him in our car. We know that he can drive a car fast. But the way he's approached the weekend, the way he approached the race, step by step – you've got to get off the grid and you've got to get alongside some fairly feisty opposition who are going to get their elbows out. He did that cleanly.

Ferrari super-sub Bearman ‘destroyed’ after points-scoring F1 debut in Jeddah

"We said if he comes around the first lap with all four wheels still on, we'll be really happy. He did that. He was still in P11, so he held his position off the grid, and from then on he just grew into the race.

“You have to recognise every lap of the race was another 10% experience for Ollie in this car, so by the time he'd done half the race, he’d doubled his experience in this car. He was learning super fast, but he never overstretched himself. I think that's the thing I'm most proud of from him.

READ MORE: Vasseur reflects on ‘fantastic’ Bearman performance in Saudi Arabia as Haas boss Komatsu calls him the ‘total package’

"It's very easy, especially when Charles [Leclerc] is a bit ahead of you and you know this car will go quicker, there's a bit more potential just to overstretch yourself and make a mistake. In those last 10 laps with Lando [Norris] and Lewis [Hamilton] bearing down on you with a new set of soft tyres, you think this is where he's just going to lock up into Turn 1 and it's all going to get messy – but he didn't.

“He kept the rhythm. He kept going and actually got quicker and quicker towards the end of the race. I think his best lap was on the penultimate lap, so just a really intelligent drive and that’s what I'm really proud of, because that has always been his strength and that's going to get better and better. That's going to pay off more and more as he gets to F1 and he starts to settle into what is an intelligent driver sport.”

2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix: F2 pole to F1 points for Oliver Bearman

Asked if this was the best debut he has seen in his extensive F1 career, Clear responded: “I suppose you would all say that I'm a bit biased, and Jacques [Villeneuve] had won an IndyCar championship when he got in an F1 car, but obviously he put it on pole in Melbourne and he would have won that race if Adrian [Newey] hadn't told us to move over and let Damon [Hill] win, in 1996, but obviously Jacques was 26 years old at that time.

“This guy is 18 so, at this level, having come out of an F2 car at 18 years old, I've never seen anything better than that.”

THIS WEEK IN F1: 10 quiz questions on all the F1 news after the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

And on whether Bearman has done enough to earn himself a place on the F1 grid in 2025, Clear added: “I think so, yeah. I was convinced before that and I think the fact that Fred [Vasseur] was brave enough to put him in this car this weekend, under the circumstances, speaks volumes for what we've seen of him already.

“I think this was better than we could have expected. But when the decision was made, I suppose this is what we expected. I don't want to diminish the achievement. We really, really are over the moon with everything, but we sort of put him there thinking, ‘I think he can do this’, and he's absolutely vindicated that choice.”

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