Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Special feature
Formula 1 Mexico City GP

Will the F1 Mexico GP rookie crop match the class of 2001?

The 2001 Australian GP saw the Formula 1 debuts of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Enrique Bernoldi, but will we look back on the Friday of this year’s Mexico GP in a similar fashion?

Ollie Bearman, Haas VF-23

FP1 saw the maiden outings for three drivers who represent the futures of the three top teams.

Isack Hadjar of Red Bull, Oliver Bearman of Ferrari and Frederik Vesti of Mercedes all made their F1 practice debuts in the Mexico GP FP1 session, but they weren’t the only youngsters on track, as fellow F2 racers Alpine’s Jack Doohan and Alfa Romeo’s Theo Pourchaire had already enjoyed previous practice outings.

Of the debutants, the first two were farmed out to associated teams; AlphaTauri in the case of Hadjar and Haas for Bearman. But like Vesti they were there to stake their claims as long-term candidates as F1 prospects.

With its high altitude and low downforce Mexico City is a tricky track even for regulars to adjust to each year so it is a test for any newcomers.

Remember Alfonso Celis Jr? You may not because after he crashed Esteban Ocon’s Force India in the 2017 FP1 session in Mexico his career was over before it started, give or take a couple of IndyCar starts.

Guenther Steiner summed it up perfectly when describing his pep talk with Bearman: “I explained to him you're always judged by the things you do badly, not the things that are good. Because if you do everything right, nobody will remember. But if you crash the car on your first outing in an F1 car in FP1, that will be on your resume for the rest of your life.

PLUS: The forgotten member of F1’s greatest rookie crop

“If you ever make it into F1 because of that. You know how this business works, and I made him aware of that. I think he's smart enough to know that he doesn't go through anything stupid.”

Oliver Bearman, Haas VF-23

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Oliver Bearman, Haas VF-23

Bearman: Ferrari’s teenager impresses

Having only turned 18 in May, Oliver Bearman was the youngest of the new faces in FP1, and made a good impression even before he drove, with his mature approach and relaxed, positive demeanour.

A run in a Ferrari SF21 at Fiorano earlier this month gave him a first taste of F1 power and a little bit of a head start. On the other hand, he still had a lot to learn about the Haas team, having only had one weekend embedded in the camp and getting to know how things worked.

He also ended up as fastest of the FP1 drivers, and while the youngsters were in different cars and running different programmes, it caught the attention.

“My first goal was just to have a clean session,” he said. “We did that, which is the main thing. So I'm really happy to have just delivered a clean session to start with. But second of all, I got up to speed quite fast, I felt I had a really good confidence with the car. More or less, I am happy. There are always a few things that it was my first time doing everything, my first time on the soft tyre and my first long run. So I would do better the second time but for the first time, I was quite happy.”

Like his fellow rookies, the first session was a challenge, with so much to take in. The Maranello sim, and even the Fiorano outing, could only prepare him so much.

“You don't realise how fast you're going until you hit the brakes,” he said. “Then you're like, ‘Oh, wait, I'm not going hit that apex.’ But also the visibility is really tough. So I was actually struggling, especially in the first laps, to get my bearings.

Ollie Bearman, Haas VF-23

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Ollie Bearman, Haas VF-23

“You have to do it by feel rather than by sight, so that was quite an interesting kind of new thing to get used to. And yeah, those heavy brakings, I wanted to get confidence straight away and be strong. I'd rather go over than slowly building up.

“Obviously, I tested the 2021 car a couple of weeks back, and that was peak grip, peak performance. With this altitude and track conditions, especially to start with, we're also on an unknown tyre, the prototype. It was quite slippery out there.

“I felt like I was in F2 again, so that was quite nice. And then as the track got better and better I just kind of went with it. The thing that surprised me was how much quicker you arrive in Turn 1 on a quali sim rather than the race. My first push on softs, I probably left a bit of margin there.”

On the second run, like Hadjar, he tipped over the limit: “I wanted to do a good one, I wanted to go to what I felt was the limit, I was a bit weak on Turn 7 and in the performance on the hard tyre.

“So I decided, I have confidence with the car, let's see what it can do. And I was a bit out of shape out of seven, and that whole sequence I was in trouble. So I have to abort that lap, unfortunately. With the soft that we have, the first lap is the fastest, so that's a bit unlucky.”

Finding the limit on three different tyres was a challenge: “It was really hard to be honest. I went from a 15-lap old hard tyre on high fuel to a new soft with the DRS open. But we're used to that in F2, you just have to basically trust the car. I managed to get the trust quite early on. It was tough but I feel like I got the most out of it. Just like I said, that first lap, it left a little bit to be desired.”

Bearman couldn’t have done any more to show that, even at his young age, he is F1 material: “I believe that I have what it takes. In my mind there's no doubt about that. But that's not all you need to get to F1. There's a lot more going on behind the scenes. I've just got to keep focusing on myself, I have to do a good job next year in F2. If that's enough, that's enough. If it's not, then I don't know what to say.”

Isack Hadjar, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Isack Hadjar, AlphaTauri AT04

Hadjar: An F1 baptism for 'little Prost'

The man that Helmut Marko calls 'little Prost' was a genuine rookie when he drove out of the garage – he hadn’t even done a show run in an old car, never mind the 300km session that a lot of new guys are required to do to earn a free practice superlicence. Given that context, his first ever outing was especially impressive.

“I was really worried, to be honest,” said the 19-year-old. “I was excited but more worried because I know it’s a big, big step compared to F2. It felt like a relief after the first run, and I was like, ‘Ok, I got this, I’m pretty ok now.’ It went better than I expected.

“Obviously, the first run – just the power itself in the straight line was crazy. The acceleration, the braking was just too much, and I had to first get confident just with this and then try and work on my driving and improve.”

Some anti-stall issues hampered him at the start, but he soon got into the groove.

“With so much going on with all the procedures and the traffic, it was overwhelming,” he said of the early laps. “It was really tough at the beginning, but I got in the rhythm quite quickly and in the end, it felt like I’ve done this for quite a while.

“I was struggling to get a lap without traffic, so I was backing off quite a lot and the temps were going down big time. And also, driving-wise, I was not using the brakes properly, so not trail braking enough and using too much the fronts.

“But on the race run, it was the most interesting one and I could experiment how to play with it, so that was good. Race pace was quite good, and I managed to keep the soft for two laps.”

Oliver Bearman, Haas F1 Team, and Isack Hadjar, Scuderia AlphaTauri

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Oliver Bearman, Haas F1 Team, and Isack Hadjar, Scuderia AlphaTauri

It was not a perfect session in that he didn’t complete his second lap on softs, but it was intriguing to hear how he’d dealt with a mistake.

“I knew I was on a really good lap, so I tried to push really hard,” he said. “And I overdid it and couldn’t make the corner, so I had to abort it. It was a shame, because I had to give up four-tenths. It was before the hairpin – the big braking zone. I came in quite quickly and I knew I was going to hit the kerb. I didn’t want to do any damage, so I aborted.”

So what of Marko’s little Prost nickname? It seems to fit a driver who, like the four-time F1 world champion, enjoys the technical side.

“He told me this two years ago,” Hadjar explained. “I don’t know why, but I take it! Honestly, apart from the driving, I am really into the engineering. For me, I don’t consider debriefing and working with the engineers as a job. It’s so interesting, you’re learning so much and it just helps you get better at what you’re doing. It’s a great tool to have.”

His next outing will be in FP1 with Red Bull in Abu Dhabi, and it will be intriguing to see how he goes in the quickest car on the grid.

Frederik Vesti, Mercedes-AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Frederik Vesti, Mercedes-AMG

Vesti: Mercedes man ticks all the boxes

For Frederik Vesti this was a second outing in a contemporary Mercedes, but it had been a long wait since his run in the post-season rookie test in Abu Dhabi last year.

In some ways the 21-year-old faced more pressure than his colleagues because he was driving for a top team, and sitting in the garage with Lewis Hamilton in the car alongside.

A cursory glance at the times showed him below his fellow newcomers, but for Mercedes there was a bigger picture in terms of race preparation, and the Dane wasn’t given a soft tyre performance run to allow him to show what he could do. That robbed him of the chance to make any kind of stunning first impression to the wider world, but the team knew that he’d done exactly what was expected of him.

“A very special weekend, of course, doing my first FP1 with the Mercedes F1 team,” he said. “It's a dream come true. Since I joined the junior programme, there's been a lot of work both in the junior series getting the right results, but definitely also in the sim getting ready for a day like this. It was a very good session and a lot of data and laps that we needed.”

Vesti was well aware that the hour was not so much about him as about getting work done for the engineers.

“The programme was purely focused on gathering the best possible data for the team,” he said. “Then just trying to also understand the tyres. We started out on the prototype tyre, which we did a few runs on. Also, for me just getting up to speed.

“Then we did a long run at the end, which was probably the most interesting. Just seeing how the tyre is degrading, and also from my side, like what I can do to help that, learning. The main goal is to complete the programme, already that is a success, to gather all the data possible. But it is just to make a steady improvement throughout the session.

“It's important for the team to see that when they tell me to improve something that I actually go and do it. That shows that I can improve.”

Frederik Vesti, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Frederik Vesti, Mercedes F1 W14

As noted Mexico City is not an easy venue, and there was much to adjust to in that single hour: “It's a difficult track. It's very low grip. I could definitely feel that on track. You're just missing a lot of grip in the car. Obviously, also, not knowing the track, never been here before, is also quite a big downside. So yeah, a lot to learn in that one hour. But it was a pleasure to drive.

“I think especially in Mexico, but on any track in F1, you need to be strong on the brakes, especially coming from Formula 2. It's just such a big step with the downforce and the performance in the car. So improving on the initial braking point was quite a big thing initially, and then probably at the end a little bit of high-speed comparing to Lewis.”

Years ago rookies had a lot more testing opportunities, so Vesti has had to be patient, waiting a year for his second outing.

“It's tough,” he said. “I'm just grateful, to be honest, to have this opportunity. Obviously, we have raced in F2 and I've been so focused this year on just delivering the best results possible.

“I think it's worked out pretty well how it's been scheduled. And I would love to do every single week in an F1 car, but that's not possible. I think the way the schedule works is pretty good, because it allows us to focus on F2. Actually, we have a gap now, but that gap is filled with F1 stuff.”

Like his colleagues, Vesti did what he was asked for, and it’s now a question of waiting to see what eventually opens up.

All three Mexican debutants also face the extra challenge of having immediate rivals within their own camps, namely Liam Lawson for Hadjar, Robert Shwartzman for Bearman, and Andrea Kimi Antonelli for Vesti.

It will be fascinating to see who emerges as top dog at each team – and indeed if there’s room for them to make it in F1.

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Fittipaldi aiming to retain Haas F1 test role alongside IndyCar drive
Next article Live: F1 Mexico GP updates - FP3 & Qualifying

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe