F1 hopefuls Antonelli and Bearman struggle to shine in new-look F2: Spanish GP diary


McLaren's paddock fire; how Sainz's big decision could affect others; Barcelona puts up a fight; and Prema's F2 struggles. Chris Medland with his 2024 Spanish GP diary

Oliver Bearman Kimi Antonelli

Could a lack of performance in F2 cause Antonelli and Bearman to enter F1 next year with little momentum?

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A close battle on track and some drama off it in Barcelona, where the driver market continued to move and the focus on some of the rookies that could join the grid showed up the difficulties being faced by an iconic junior team.

The impact of McLaren’s fire

During the European rounds McLaren often invites media to its hospitality unit on a Saturday morning for breakfast and coffee, allowing a bit of socialising before the final practice session.

It’s not the only team to do such a thing I must add, but the timing has probably lined up in your head already when I tell you that many media members were in what McLaren calls the ‘Team Hub’ when a fire broke out.

Having just hosted the press conference for the top three finishers in the Formula 3 race, I was about to head down myself when I stepped out into a paddock that was clearly more animated than usual and featured blue flashing lights and some smoke. The area had drawn quite a crowd but was well cordoned off by security who sensibly managed access for personnel.

McLaren fire Spanish Grand Prix 2024

Smoke fills the air around the McLaren hospitality centre

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For those in the hospitality unit at the time, it was all extremely calmly handled, with McLaren team members evacuating everyone inside before trying to identify the source of the fire, with only the smoke visible. Mario Isola — the Motorsport Director for Pirelli — was one to rush in and help after hearing that a number of fire extinguishers had already been used up, grabbing his own from within the Pirelli hospitality next door and entering McLaren.

The calm and clear response ensured just one team member needed a precautionary hospital visit, but the incident did leave the building out of action for the rest of the weekend. Rival teams, F1 and the FIA all offered to help in different ways so McLaren could still function effectively within the paddock, offering space for their team members or guests and minimising the disruption.

It was a reminder of the tight-knit community F1 is, despite rivalries, and it helped McLaren maintain its focus on delivering another strong on-track performance and very nearly take victory.


Sainz on the verge

Given how long Carlos Sainz has been weighing up his options for 2025 and beyond, there were multiple occasions when rumours surfaced in the paddock of a potential announcement on specific days of the race weekend in Spain.

As far as my information extended, Sainz had yet to make a definitive decision on his future heading into the weekend, and didn’t sign anything in the opening days, so nothing was likely to be forthcoming. But it does appear that he is now strongly leaning towards joining the Williams rebuilding project (that was shown to still have a long way to go on track in Barcelona).

Sainz Announcement

An announcement is due, but no one is quite sure when its going to happen


Kevin Magnussen clearly pointed out that Sainz is the cork in the bottle and that other moves will follow quickly once he signs somewhere, with Stake/Sauber/Audi able to move on other targets if the Spaniard does head to Grove, and then Haas and Alpine also getting a more clear picture.

One unexpected option at Alpine appears to be Zhou Guanyu, who came through the team’s driver academy. The Chinese driver is chasing the seat vacated by Esteban Ocon, but his current team-mate Valtteri Bottas could also be a factor, and Jack Doohan is very much in the frame too.

Whether there is a significant chance for Zhou is more likely to become clear once Sainz makes a decision, and that could come during the current triple header to really speed up the movement in the market over the coming weeks.


The Madrid impact on Barcelona

Sometimes it’s a little bit sad to see races entering the end of their time on the F1 calendar and being allowed to drift in terms of investment and organisation, but credit where it’s due that hasn’t happened at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

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The 2022 edition of the race was a shambles to be honest, with a lack of investment in personnel and infrastructure meeting a massive crowd and leading to all manner of logistical and security issues.

But despite Madrid’s confirmation as the home of the Spanish Grand Prix from 2026 onwards, the track just outside Barcelona has seen major work take place on hospitality areas in the pit and paddock building, upgraded facilities and even a brand new construction over the track on the run to Turn 10.

That investment also extended to the organisation, with a far better approach to traffic flow and access appearing to benefit both fans and those working.

It might be too little too late given the Madrid deal, but with two years left to run on the current contract at least the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya has not just thrown in the towel.


Struggles for the future stars in F2

There was also some good racing this weekend in all categories, on a track that has regularly been derided in the past for producing boring races.

But if you watched some of the feeder series’ action in the hope of seeing big performances from the stars of the future, you were probably left a little disappointed.

Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Ollie Bearman are looking increasingly likely to both make the step up to F1 next year (in Bearman’s case it’s as good as a certainty), but both struggled massively in F2 in Spain.

Prema F2 2024

Prema are continuing to struggle in F2 — causing headaches for their hotshots behind the wheel

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Antonelli qualified well but the F2 Sprint race showed the problems facing the pair, as there was no long run performance and the each dropped through the field. F2 is a spec series but set-ups and team execution are crucial, and while Prema has been the team to be with for so long, it has struggled to get to grips with the new-for-2024 car.

Those struggles show no sign of ending as 15th and 12th for Antonelli in the two races was paired with 21st and 14th for Bearman, leaving the latter still higher in the F1 drivers’ standings (13th) than he is in F2 (17th) courtesy of his outstanding one-off appearance for Ferrari in Saudi Arabia.

These are two hugely talented drivers, and their team is a class act that is currently in a slump, but the timing is troublesome because it doesn’t allow Antonelli or Bearman to show what they can do in a way that would take them into F1 with momentum. Both Mercedes and Haas would love to see Prema back on track soon so that the results that fit with a promotion follow.