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Formula 1 Emilia Romagna GP

Why "misfortune" would help Bearman's case for 2025 Haas F1 seat

Oliver Bearman knows his task for the rest of 2024: impress the Haas team enough to earn a full-time Formula 1 promotion for next year.

Oliver Bearman, Haas VF-24

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

After his stunning surprise debut in place of the appendicitis-addled Carlos Sainz at Ferrari in Jeddah, Bearman is now finally starting the main challenge of his season in the top categories of single-seaters.

Imola marks the first of six FP1 appearances with Haas that were earmarked into his deal as the team's reserve driver for 2024, along with his similar duties as a Ferrari junior.

In this weekend’s first 60-minute session, which follows Bearman’s 2023 practice running for the team in Mexico and at Abu Dhabi, the 19-year-old ended up 15th in Kevin Magnussen’s car. He was told late on by Magnussen’s regular race engineer Mark Slade that the “lack of updates” he was receiving in the 60-minute showing was because Haas thought he was “doing a good job”.

Speaking at Imola on Thursday, Haas team boss Ayao Komatsu called Bearman's 2024 FP1 sessions "a golden opportunity for us to work with him".

"And then assess how he is, where he is, what his strengths and weaknesses are," Komatsu, who was glowingly effusive about a driver he bonded with immediately in Mexico last year, explained.

"See how we can develop him and also work together if we want it. So, yeah, it's a pretty good job interview situation."

But after his 2023 practice outings and his late call-up for Ferrari went so smoothly, the subtext of what Komatsu said next is intriguing.

"I'm not hoping for some misfortune on the car or anything, but at some point, he will face some obstacles," he continued.

Oliver Bearman, Haas F1 Team, adjusts his helmet in the garage

Oliver Bearman, Haas F1 Team, adjusts his helmet in the garage

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

"You know, some things that didn't go his way or I don't know whether a car issue or yellow flag or red flag situation or whatever. Then, how he handles that, with a compromised situation, how he is still going to be able to focus on and behave in the manner that he can get the best out of that."

Essentially, Haas wants to see how Bearman stacks up through all the challenges F1 drivers can face – glamorous, good, bad and ugly, on track and off track.

This is why Haas arranged a full media appearance for Bearman before the regular race drive slot on Thursday. In this case, it was Sauber-bound Hulkenberg, who arrived briefly surprised at the number of journalists gathered in the Haas motorhome.

When Bearman had spoken, he'd grabbed attention with this: "I see it, of course, as my chance. But just because there is a seat free doesn't mean you know I'm entitled to it.

"I still have to go out there and earn it through good performances in F2, but even more so the six FPs that I'm doing, I have to perform well and ensure that I'm ready to jump into F1 next year."

Bearman was impressive in other answers. On the topic of his F2 campaign, which took a hit with his absence from the Jeddah races just after he'd topped qualifying there, he hit back at suggestions he's been struggling.

"First of all," he said. "I don't think we struggled for pace so far this season. Bahrain is a bit of an outlier. Even last year, we really struggled. Jeddah, I was on pole and in Australia I was going on the front row and then my engine blew up. So, a few mitigating factors put us out of contention."

Then he batted away a clumsy question about comparing the 2024 Ferrari and Haas cars, which bafflingly somehow seemed to forget their shared parts and the overall closeness of the 2024 field.

Oliver Bearman, Ferrari SF-24

Oliver Bearman, Ferrari SF-24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"You say it's a different car, but at the end in quali these cars are separated by three tenths," he replied coolly. "A different car in the end, you know, there's not much in it.

"I'm not sure about the characteristics, but from driving the last year Haas, characteristically, it's quite similar. And even on the simulator, I couldn't notice many huge differences. Of course, it will be my first time on this track with the F1, and I think that would be the biggest difference, not the car."

Overall, Bearman's enthusiasm shone through. He made sure to enjoy his surprise debut by re-watching the broadcast of the Jeddah race in the small hours after that event and still replays it "when I'm bored".

As with any job, the shine will come off if Bearman is going through F1's repetitive motions on a full-time basis. But securing that is his goal and dream right now. From Haas's perspective with Hulkenberg leaving, its preference would be to elevate Bearman given his position as a Ferrari driver.

Komatsu has also said he puts "more weight on what we do with him" than what he goes on to achieve in F2. Therefore, it would be wise for Bearman to make his Haas outings a priority. But that still won't be easy.

Back in 2017, Charles Leclerc, then another Ferrari Academy Driver, told this writer how his struggles switching between Haas F1 machinery and his then GP3 car compromised his ultimately successful attempt to win the third tier category at the first attempt.

A year late in F2, he deliberately requested his F1 programme take place at race events away from the F2 rounds or in dedicated tests.

Indeed, Bearman’s Imola F2 weekend got off to an embarrassing start given the scrutiny he’s under this weekend – with close attention from Netflix’s Drive to Survive crew – as he crashed his Prema Racing machine early in F2 practice. He lost control of the rear of what already looked like a very loose car through the second part of the Tamburello chicane during the session’s closing stages and hit the barriers on the outside head-on, smashing the front suspension and knocking off his front wing.

But while Bearman's challenge of impressing Haas and also climbing back up the F2 standings plays out, it's not just the possibility of him replacing Hulkenberg that's in consideration.

Oliver Bearman, Haas F1 Team, Damon Hill, Sky F1

Oliver Bearman, Haas F1 Team, Damon Hill, Sky F1

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Hulkenberg, who says Bearman has "definitely a good potential" also pointed out "it doesn't have to be mine necessarily, does it?" when asked if Bearman was set to replace him.

"There's two," he added.

Magnussen's contract is also up at the end of 2024, plus he'll be on the verge of a race ban until the end of the season. While Magnussen has vowed to drive differently to "be careful not to get a race ban", Bearman says he's "ready" in case of another surprise call-up.

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"I showed in Saudi that I'm ready," Bearman said. "If I get the call, I'll happily jump in. Of course, it's not my... it's never the way you want to do a race if something like that happens.

"But if it is the case, if it does happen, then I'll happily oblige."

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