Written by Jasmin Low, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
The recent Formula One weekend in Baku, Azerbaijan was labeled ‘boring’ following another dominant 1-2 finish for Red Bull, with second-placed Max Verstappen finishing 17 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in third. However, the Formula 2 (F2) championship, the premier support series to the pinnacle of motorsport, witnessed a spectacle of racing, a dominant weekend for one driver in particular.
Formula 2 is a spec series, which means each of the 22 cars on track are the same. It is up to the car set-up and driver skill to make the difference. Some F2 graduates go on to claim a seat in Formula One, the most recent graduate being Williams driver Logan Sargeant, the American finishing fourth in the 2022 championship.
Formula 2 may be best known as the ‘stepping stone’ into Formula One, as most of the drivers have already been scouted by a team, and are members of teams’ junior driver academies. Having ties with Formula One teams and performing well are crucial to getting a seat in F1. Winning the F2 championship automatically grants a driver enough points to gain a Super Licence, a mandatory requirement to race in Formula One.
The Formula 2 weekend at Baku saw rookie Oliver Bearman make history. The young Brit became the first driver to top every session at a single race weekend (Free Practice, Qualifying, Sprint Race, and Feature Race), scoring maximum points except for fastest lap in the feature race, which went to fellow rookie Isack Hadjar. Bearman’s successful weekend saw him rocket up to fourth in the drivers standings.
Bearman, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, became the second-youngest pole-sitter in Formula 2, at the age of 17 years and 355 days (just over a week from his eighteenth birthday).
His feat was made more impressive by the fact that his steering wheel was bent 15 degrees out of alignment, having tapped the barriers at turn two during his qualifying lap. Yet, Bearman still took pole by a mere 0.012 seconds from Enzo Fittipaldi. Bearman was in disbelief on knowing his qualifying position, stating that it was ‘the scariest lap of [his] life,’ over the team radio.
The Sprint Race chaos saw a number of front-running cars crash out post the Safety car restart, leaving Bearman and his teammate Frederik Vesti as the 2 leading cars. Bearman overtook his teammate seconds before the safety car was called out again. With only two laps remaining, the race ended under the safety car, Bearman thus taking victory.
To add to his sprint race success, Bearman converted his pole position to a Feature Race victory, while Vesti finished fifth. Their team Prema Racing took the lead of the constructors standings, thanks to both of their impressive performances.
Prema Racing is no stranger to success, with nine drivers having raced for the team in feeder series now on the 2023 Formula One Grid. They are also no strangers to triumphing in the Land of Fire, with 14 podiums at the circuit since its introduction to the calendar in 2016.
Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc, Robert Shwartzman, Dennis Hauger, and Oliver Bearman have taken victories for the Italian outfit. Bearman’s double delight saw him join Giovinazzi as the only other driver to have achieved the trio of pole position, sprint race win, and feature race win across the same weekend.
In addition, six drivers have finished runners-up at Baku for the team, the likes of current F1 drivers Pierre Gasly, Leclerc, Nyck de Vries, and Oscar Piastri podiuming for the team in the past. Frederic Vesti too finished runners-up to his teammate Bearman at the sprint race this season.
Both Bearman and Vesti are promising junior drivers with a likelihood of obtaining an F1 seat, with the media already labeling the 18 year-old Bearman ‘Ferrari’s Future Star’ and even being touted as the next Charles Leclerc.
However, Bearman’s chances of replicating the Monegasque’s success will require him to continue performing at this level, in a bid to catch the attention of Formula One teams on the paddock. Will Bearman continue to maintain his highs, or will the chasing pack be able to catch up? The answer to this question will be known in the coming rounds of the Formula 2 season.