PREMA Racing's newest recruit Oliver Bearman is gearing up for his rookie Formula 2 campaign. One of the stars of the show last year in Formula 3, he finished third in what was his rookie campaign and a tightly contested Championship fight.
The British driver has been a race winner in every season since his graduation to single seaters back in 2020. He is also one of only two drivers to have won the Italian and ADAC Formula 4 titles in the same season.
His remaining at PREMA for the move up to F2 means that there is guaranteed continuity at a team that has become like a home for Bearman. He also has the experienced Frederik Vesti on the other side of the garage, an established talent and strong measuring stick with which to compare himself against this year.
So, what could 2023 hold for Bearman off the back of his impressive F3 debut season?
WHAT WE KNOW
Based on his form from 2022 in F3 with PREMA, Bearman arrives in Formula 2 with a great deal of expectation. On his Formula 3 debut, he missed out on a maiden victory in the Bahrain Sprint Race due to a track limits penalty, though the start of the campaign wasn’t as rosy as the final scores suggest.
A run of inconsistency and disappointing results from Imola to Silverstone was finally ended with a podium on home soil in the Feature Race. After that point in the season though, Bearman found an almost unparalleled level of consistency, achieving a podium finish in all but one of the remaining Feature Races. It propelled him into a Championship fight that looked unlikely up until the final rounds. So, while it took the British driver a little while to get his feet planted in F3, once he did, he was one of the standout performers.
Bearman was also one of the drivers to watch on race days for his overtaking prowess. In fact, his abilities earned him a nomination for 2022 FIA Action of the Year for his double overtake during the Zandvoort Feature Race, sweeping around the outside of Alexander Smolyar at the hair-raising Turn 7 before scything down the inside of Grégoire Saucy at Turn 8 in the space of a few hundred metres.
A measured dive down the outside at Turn 1 on Jonny Edgar and Caio Collet for P3 in the Monza Sprint Race was another standout move. With the title in the balance, he showed expert judgement while the stakes were high, showcasing the high level he was driving at in the final races of the year. With the added strategic element of the Formula 2 Feature Races, decisive overtaking manoeuvres are often vital to the outcome of a race and could be an area that Bearman excels.
Strong Qualifying performances could also help lay the foundations to those consistent results in F2. Bearman qualified inside the top five on three occasions in 2022 and only once did he end up outside of the reverse grid top 12. That came at Zandvoort following an ill-timed Red Flag intervention preventing him from posting a lap that an all likelihood would have put him in the mix. Keeping himself in the top 10 in Qualifying will provide a strong platform in both the Sprint and Feature Races this year in F2.
Is it realistic to expect a similar level of performance in Formula 2? If we take 2023 teammate Vesti as an example, the Dane finished fourth in his final F3 campaign back in 2021 and struggled in the early rounds of his rookie F2 season last year. However, a breakthrough victory in the Baku Sprint Race gave way to more consistent results and points finishes, including back-to-back P2 finishes across the Monza weekend for the Dane. If Bearman can acclimatise quickly then there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t be capable of similar exploits himself.
PREMA also took a step back from where it expected to compete, ending the season fourth in the Teams’ Standings with three race victories across the season. The pieces are in place for a bounce back to normality for the Italian outfit, but it’s level of competitiveness in 2023 will need to be more consistent for Bearman to shine.
What does bode well for the team is Dennis Hauger’s improved performances and results towards the end of ’22. The 2021 F3 Champion took a little longer than expected to get up to speed in F2 but, after the summer break, the Norwegian driver looked back to his confident and self-assured best, finishing outside of the top four just once in the final six races.
Adapting to life in F2 won’t be easy for any of the graduates and, as Bearman himself admitted following the post-season Abu Dhabi test, tyre strategy is a tough element to master but a critical area of performance in the Championship.
“We managed to do a lot of race runs, which is super important,” he said back in Abu Dhabi following three days in the F2 car. “The degradation is quite high, at least compared to what I'm used to so it's nice to get some race runs under my belt. The step from prime to option, the pitstops. the options-to-prime in the race, there's so many things to master. My head was kind of confused at the start, but now it's all a bunch of new things and I would say I took away everything, at least as much as I could.”
Extending the life of the Pirelli tyres or making the most of them is pivotal to a successful Feature Race. Where and how to work the tyres the most and when is best to save the rubber is something only experience will bring, so this particular learning curve could dictate performances in the first few races at least.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The level of expectation on Bearman is down to his strong results in recent seasons. His F3 title charge proved that the jump from Italian and German F4 to FIA F3 wasn’t too much, and an immediate graduation to F2 is well deserved.
With impressive overtaking abilities, solid Qualifying speed and a measured and provably successful method of adapting to new Championships, the framework is already in place for the British charger.
Driving for a PREMA team that will be working hard to get back to their usual best in 2023 and learning alongside an established teammate in Frederik Vesti, life in Formula 2 should be an eventual success for Bearman this season.