Oliver Bearman: Ferrari's F1 heir to Lewis Hamilton

F1

Lewis Hamilton may not have raced for Ferrari yet, but the team's succession plan is already in place with Oliver Bearman set for an F1 apprenticeship at Haas, writes Adam Cooper

Oliver Bearman Lewis Hamilton Ferrari

Bearman following in the wheel-tracks of the greats

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Oliver Bearman will take to the track in FP1 at Silverstone on Friday knowing that he’ll be a full time Haas driver next season, and that his session is no longer part of an extended audition for the role.

The 2025 British GP will thus see him join Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris and Anglo-Thai Alex Albon on the grid, providing a feast of riches for home fans.

Hamilton would be the first to admit that he’s closer to the end of his career than the start; the others are from different generations, and thus will be around for a while.

Just as we may once have feared that there would be no one to replace James Hunt or Nigel Mansell or Damon Hill in the affections of the British public, there’s no need to worry too much about life after Lewis. The future is in good hands.

Oliver Bearman Lewis Hamilton

The soon-to-be present and future of the Scuderia?

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The intriguing aspect in Bearman’s case is that there’s a strong likelihood that he will eventually step into Hamilton’s shoes at Ferrari, assuming that all goes to plan and he continues with his current career progression.

“Of course, my long-term dream remains the same,” he says. “I want to be successful in F1. I want to win races and championships. And with the support and loyalty that Ferrari have shown to me, it is only right that I would want to do that with Ferrari.

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“And it’s every boy’s dream. Making my debut with them, of course, made that even stronger. But by the same token, I’m also looking at this short-term, medium-term future. My short term is finishing F2, and looking towards next year with Haas, and I’m really excited for that as well.”

Not even Hamilton knows how long he will carry on for, and how energised he will be at his new home at Maranello. However, we could guess at a minimum stay of three years, taking him to the end of 2027, and close to his 43rd birthday.

By then Bearman would have done a three-year apprenticeship at Haas, not unlike the one conducted by Russell at Williams before he went to Mercedes, and he will be perfectly placed to slip into a Ferrari race seat.

George Russell Williams 2021

Could Bearman share a similar career progression to Russell in a journey to the front of the grid?

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Ferrari has no contractual hold over Haas in terms of drivers – it did in the past at Sauber/Alfa, which is why Charles Leclerc and later Antonio Giovinazzi drove for the Swiss team – but the obvious links between the team make it easy for Ferrari to call on Gene Haas and new boss Ayao Komatsu for favours.

Indeed Leclerc did some FP1 running for Haas back in 2016, and later Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) member Mick Schumacher was placed at the team in 2021-’22. Bearman was loaned to the team last year for his FP1 runs and the Abu Dhabi post-season test, hugely impressing the team.

Bearman was originally picked up by the FDA at the age of 16 back in November 2021, after he’d won the German and Italian F4 titles. A strong run to a close third in the 2022 FIA F3 series with Prema saw him propelled into F2 with the same team last season. He won three feature races and a sprint and took sixth in the points after what was a decent rookie season.

In the process he established himself as the man most likely to be in line for a Ferrari drive, leapfrogging Robert Shwartzman. The Russian/Israeli completed rookie FP1 sessions with the works team in both 2022 and 2023, but it was Bearman, farmed out to Haas, who caught the eye with his easy-going and confident approach. However it took a bit of luck to move him to the next level.

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Bearman impressed in junior categories before being picked up by Ferrari

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Sometimes even the greats need to benefit from circumstances. In 1991 Michael Schumacher’s chance with Jordan at Spa came after Bertrand Gachot had a contretemps with a London cabbie, and in 2007 Robert Kubica’s crash in Montreal handed BMW-Sauber reserve Sebastian Vettel a race debut at Indianapolis.

History has shown how a driver stepping in as a replacement can make a career with an eye-catching debut, and that’s exactly what Bearman did when appendicitis sidelined Carlos Sainz in Jeddah.

True, he knew the track from his F2 running – he had to abandon pole to take the F1 seat – but to step in on a Saturday with just the hour of FP3 before being propelled into qualifying and the race was quite the challenge, especially at a track where there’s little margin for error. His near faultless run to seventh pretty much guaranteed him a future in the sport. A race seat with Haas was the obvious first step given the long-term deals with Hamilton and Leclerc.

However Fred Vasseur was keen to play down such expectations, reminding everyone that Bearman would also have to continue to prove himself over the F2 season.

The intriguing aspect is that at Prema he is alongside Kimi Antonelli, the man that Toto Wolff is grooming to replace Hamilton at Mercedes, as early as 2025.

Oliver Bearman Kimi Antonelli

Bearman has beat Antonelli to an F1 deal, but the young Italian could soon follow

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The Italian is in his rookie F2 year and skipped F3, and it was inevitable that he’d need a little time to get up to speed. It’s been a difficult year for both Prema youngsters with the team struggling. Antonelli has scored more points at this stage, but Bearman has held his own, and with perfect timing he won the sprint race in Austria last weekend.

“I think it couldn’t have come at a better time, honestly,” says Bearman of that success. “It is continuing to be a difficult season in F2, because even on Sunday, I had an engine failure.

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“So it felt like all that hard work was almost down the drain. It came at a really good time, a really important time, not only for my prospects with F1, but also for the team, because in F2, we needed a good result to bolster the kind of the motivation of everyone, and that really helped us out.”

Instead of waiting to see how the F2 season plays out, as if often the case in similar situations, Haas and Ferrari have opted to take any lingering pressure off Bearman in his F2 campaign – and put a stop to the endless questions about his future – by telling him on Sunday in Austria that the drive was his, and then confirming him publicly on the eve of the British GP.

“I do feel like the F1 running carried a lot of weight,” he says. “Of course, the race in Saudi, first of all. But even in my few practices and all my testing, it’s always been going pretty well.

“And I think the for the people that mattered, it also carried a bit more weight. But yeah, there’s no way of hiding behind the fact that in F2 it continues to be a little bit difficult, and that always leaves a bit of a question mark in the back of your mind.”

Oliver Bearman F2 sprint Austria

A sprint race victory in Austria is Bearman’s first F2 success since September last year when he won a feature race at Monza

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He’ll be a Haas driver, but he will maintain close ties to Ferrari. Apart from anything else the customer team uses the Maranello simulator, which will oblige him to make regular visits to Italy, as was the case with Mick Schumacher. He’ll also potentially be available as a reserve for the works team should there be any issue with Hamilton or Leclerc over the course of the season.

As noted if he does complete a three-year apprenticeship at Haas he’ll be following in the footsteps not just of Russell at Williams but also Felipe Massa at Sauber prior to the Brazilian’s move to join Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 2006.

Massa, who kickstarted the whole Ferrari young driver programme, provides the template. He was the first young driver in modern times to be trained for the role of Ferrari works driver. After him there was a focus on experience as the team signed the likes of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

More recently there was a return to a youth policy when Leclerc was fast-tracked into a works seat after just a year at Sauber.

Leclerc’s boss at the Swiss team at the time was none other than Vasseur, a man who has great faith in youngsters after his years running teams in the feeder categories. He’s clearly got a lot of time for Bearman, and sees him as the man most likely to be the next new face at the works team.

Vasseur Leclerc

Vasseur has helped guide the careers of both Leclerc and Hamilton — could Bearman be his next project?

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It will be interesting now to see who takes the second Haas seat. It is ultimately the decision of Gene Haas, but Vasseur will be keen to see the right man get the job – someone who can both push Bearman and serve as a teacher.

Kevin Magnussen is still in the frame, but Esteban Ocon is a hot favourite to get the job. The Frenchman may have enjoyed difficult relationships with team-mates at times, but he is yet another driver on the F1 grid with Vasseur history, having driven for ART in Formula Renault in 2013, and in GP3 in 2015.

Asked to choose between the pair Bearman noted: “That’s a tough question. It’s not really up to me. First of all, of course, in a team-mate, I’m looking for someone with experience and speed, someone to learn from. I think both of them have those traits, and to be in F1 first of all, you need to have that those traits. I’m easy.”

If Ocon ends up instead at Williams or elsewhere then Valtteri Bottas is an obvious alternative. Another man with ART history, he was headhunted by Vasseur for Sauber/Alfa Romeo when he was dropped by Mercedes, and he could fit the bill.

Alpine Esteban Ocon 2024 Miami Grand Prix

Ocon is currently one of many options Haas could consider to partner Bearman in 2025 and beyond

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So will Bearman ultimately end up at Ferrari in 2028 or 2029, or perhaps even earlier if Hamilton (or indeed Leclerc) leave a seat vacant?

“That would be the dream, right?” he says “It’s not really in my hands. All I can do is perform at my best, and that’s my goal. Anyway, everything that comes after that, that’s not really within my control, I’m focusing on my future with Haas at the moment, and I’m really excited to get started.”

At the moment he’s the man, but things change quickly in this sport. There are always other young drivers coming through the ranks, and if Max Verstappen comes knocking, Vasseur will not turn him down. The way Carlos Sainz was obliged to move over for Hamilton shows that the Frenchman is willing to make big calls. All Bearman can do is continue to learn.

“Honestly, I have to sit down with everyone from Ferrari and see exactly what they need,” he says.

“But I don’t think their expectation will be any more difficult than mine, because I’m already hard enough on myself. I demand a high level of performance for myself in the beginning, so I don’t need any more motivation or pressure.”