Max Verstappen cruises to victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in second straight Red Bull 1-2 but it is British teenager Oliver Bearman, 18, who steals the limelight after finishing SEVENTH on his F1 debut for Ferrari

He could have been any gangly teenager with A-Levels to sit, 6ft 2in and still growing, yet to fill his long frame.

But 18-year-old Oliver Bearman from Essex sat the examination of his life in the presence of millionaire superstars after being thrust in last-minute to compete in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

And how he passed with flying colours. He beat Lewis Hamilton, finishing seventh to the motor racing legend’s ninth. And to think Bearman was just 18 months old when Lewis won the first of his world titles, for McLaren back in 2008.

 

No wonder Damon Hill, world champion in 1996, declared: ‘A star is born.’

Hamilton magnanimously helped Ollie – the abbreviation by which the teenager prefers to be known – out of his Ferrari cockpit to offer his congratulations afterwards. ‘I was so tired, so many Gs, like 50 qualifying laps,’ said Bearman, turning to watch a rerun of the race on the big screens by the media pen.

Max Verstappen took a dominant victory at the Saudi Arabian GP to continue his perfect start to the season, with Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc also finishing on the podium
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Max Verstappen took a dominant victory at the Saudi Arabian GP to continue his perfect start to the season, with Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc also finishing on the podium

Oliver Bearman took points on his Formula One debut as he finished in seventh place for Ferrari


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Oliver Bearman took points on his Formula One debut as he finished in seventh place for Ferrari

Bearman did a brilliant job as he stepped in for Carlos Sainz who had surgery for appendicitis
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Bearman did a brilliant job as he stepped in for Carlos Sainz who had surgery for appendicitis

Bearman shares a hug with his father, David, in the paddock after the conclusion of the race
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Bearman shares a hug with his father, David, in the paddock after the conclusion of the race

Geri Halliwell was again by her husband Christian Horner's side for the podium ceremony in Jeddah
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Geri Halliwell was again by her husband Christian Horner’s side for the podium ceremony in Jeddah

As if he needed an extra fillip, he also beat McLaren’s eighth-placed Lando Norris, another Brit of immense talent.

Bearman, a member of the Ferrari Academy, who left his native Chelmsford and King Edward VI Grammar School for a different kind of education at the Scuderia’s HQ in Maranello aged 16, was never going to win yesterday, of course, or anything like it, for two reasons.

First, because Max Verstappen and Red Bull are the deadeye combination. The triple world champion was duly victorious, claiming his 19th win in 20 races across this young season and last, with team-mate Sergio Perez runner-up and Bearman’s Ferrari senior, Charles Leclerc, third.

Secondly, and we record this to Bearman’s glory, because he had only twice taken part in Formula One practice sessions prior to this weekend. He had never driven an F1 car under lights and only knew he was in the hot seat when Carlos Sainz went down with appendicitis on Friday.

That was just before qualifying, where Bearman claimed 11th place on the grid. ‘No time for nerves,’ he reflected, wearing a broad smile that refused to leave his face for 24 hours.

So he ditched his Formula Two duties, in which had claimed pole prior to his promotion, and there he suddenly was in the most recognisable car on earth. The red machine of Ascari, Lauda, Prost and Schumacher. Heir to a myth written into the fabric of Italy.

He stood on the grid, a giant next to RB’s tiny Yuki Tsunoda, as the Saudi national anthem played. Mercedes’ George Russell gave him a friendly tap on the back as the line-up dispersed, perhaps remembering what emotions churned through his own mind when he made his debut in 2019. That, though, was in a lowly Williams and after a probation period of natural duration.

For all the expectation, Bearman was at least displaying an outwardly relaxed countenance as he closed in on the biggest moment of his life.

Verstappen led away at the start while Perez battled with the Ferrari of Leclerc for second
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Verstappen led away at the start while Perez battled with the Ferrari of Leclerc for second

Lance Stroll was in ninth place when he crashed out of the race during the early laps
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Lance Stroll was in ninth place when he crashed out of the race during the early laps

Hamilton stayed out after the subsequent safety car but was overtaken by a number of drivers including his team-mate next season Leclerc
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Hamilton stayed out after the subsequent safety car but was overtaken by a number of drivers including his team-mate next season Leclerc

His father, David, watched on inscrutably from the Ferrari garage, his headphones on, his arms folded, his eyes glued to the screen.

Bearman’s getaway was not the most agile but he managed to hang on to his place with a detour off track at the first corner. He was soon side-by-side with Tsunoda again, looking to pass him on the left and the right.

On the softest and supposedly fastest, he had to press his claims right there and then. And you can imagine what adrenaline was doing to his senses. Still, though, he couldn’t find a way to force his way through the RB car in front of him.

A little chivvying came from the Ferrari pit wall. ‘Doing well,’ he was told. ‘We are faster than the cars in front.’

The action took a twist when Lance Stroll pranged his Aston Martin into the barriers on lap seven. ‘Hit the wall,’ he told his team. ‘Can you bring it back, Lance?’ they inquired. To which the rejoinder came: ‘No, I am in the f***ing wall.’ Badinage over, the Canadian walked awy fine.

A safety car was sent out as the debris was cleared. At this point, Bearman pitted to go on to hard rubber.

A nice move by our boy wonder up the inside of the first corner soon took him beyond Tsunoda before he zoomed past Zhou Guanyu’s Stake – the old Alfa Romeo/Sauber team before its absurd rebranding. He was now in 10th and in the points.

Norris – whose record as the youngest British driver ever Bearman was erasing – led. But he had not stopped, and anyway pole-man Verstappen soon passed his best pal to reclaim the No 1 spot he was always going to own. He cantered away at the front.

Lando Norris and Hamilton both pitted late but their alternative strategy didn't work as they finished in eighth and ninth
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Lando Norris and Hamilton both pitted late but their alternative strategy didn’t work as they finished in eighth and ninth

Max Verstappen celebrates with beleaguered Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and his wife Geri Halliwell after the race
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Max Verstappen celebrates with beleaguered Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and his wife Geri Halliwell after the race

Red Bull continue to look the class of the field with Verstappen and Perez finishing well clear of their opposition
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Red Bull continue to look the class of the field with Verstappen and Perez finishing well clear of their opposition

Anthony Joshua was a guest of Alpine a day after his second-round win over Francis Ngannou
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Anthony Joshua was a guest of Alpine a day after his second-round win over Francis Ngannou

Bearman was then being delayed by Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg. Lap after lap, Bearman followed the German round trying to prise a way through. He managed it along the straight on lap 20, but Hulkenberg sagely deployed DRS to poke himself back ahead.

‘Slow,’ was Bearman’s verdict of the Haas. He was right. But, a lap later, he made a success of the move he had just tried, and he was up into ninth, with Russell next on his hit-list. The gap, though, was 5.6sec, and the teenager could make no dent in that margin. Russell finished sixth, the only Briton ahead of Bearman, though a bad day for Mercedes.

‘You are doing a mega job,’ race engineer Riccardo Adami told Bearman, who moved up to seventh when Hamilton and Norris came in for belatedly to be reshod on soft rubber. They went on charges, but unavailingly.

‘He showed all the paddock what he can do and it is a matter of time before we see him here permanently,’ rhapsodised Leclerc.

Race over, Bearman was off to debriefs – the unglamorous hard yards of a driver’s life – and then a late celebration? ‘It will be midnight before I am done, so probably a junk meal,’ he said, an Italian twang discernible. And he smiled broadly again.

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