Essex boy with Italian twang – History-maker Ollie Bearman impresses in Mexico

By Sports Desk October 28, 2023

Ollie Bearman was barely three months old when Fernando Alonso won his first world championship in 2005 – but on his Formula One debut in Mexico City, the Essex 18-year-old finished ahead of the double world champion.

“That was an added bonus,” he said with a broad smile.

On Friday, Bearman made history by becoming the youngest British driver to step foot in an F1 machine at a Grand Prix weekend. And he quietly impressed, too.

Competing for American outfit Haas, Bearman finished 15th in first practice, only 1.6 seconds slower than triple world champion Max Verstappen, and three tenths adrift of Nico Hulkenberg – a veteran of 200 grands prix – in the other Haas. He was also speedier than Alonso.

Five rookies were fielded at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, and Bearman was quickest of them all.

Raised in Chelmsford, and schooled at King Edward VI Grammar, Bearman joined Ferrari’s driver academy, aged only 16.

Bearman had just won both the German and Italian Formula Four championships, and his performances made those at Maranello sit up and take note.

He quit school – despite initial resistance from his mother, Terri – left the family home in Chelmsford, and moved to Modena, a dozen miles north of Ferrari’s headquarters in northern Italy. Two years on, and his Italian twang is noticeable.

“Maybe I got a bit lucky not to get the Essex accent,” he joked, in an interview with the PA news agency.

“A lot of people have told me my accent has changed even if I don’t notice it. I spend a lot of time with Italians and to communicate with people where English is not their first language is not easy, so I have changed my word order and ended up with this everywhere accent.

“When I moved to Modena it happened pretty quickly. It was like going to university two years early, but I have loved every moment so far. My mum was very pro-school and very pro-education, but we managed to convince her in the end.

“I miss my family, my two dogs – I have an English Bull Terrier and a Boston Terrier and they are very cute – and that is the negative side. But the food in Italy is a big chunk above the English stuff, and the weather is better, too.”

Following four victories in his rookie Formula Two season – the feeder series to F1 – Bearman was thrust into the spotlight in Mexico City, eclipsing Lando Norris as the sport’s youngest Brit.

Norris, now in his fifth season, was three months shy of his 19th birthday when he took part in practice for McLaren in Belgium in 2018. Bearman turned 18 in May.

When Lewis Hamilton made his F1 bow, Bearman was only 18 months old. Yet on Friday, he shared the same asphalt as the seven-time world champion.

“When I heard Hamilton was coming up behind me on a push lap I was like ‘wow, I will get out of the way’,” he added.

However, it was Hamilton’s former McLaren team-mate, the 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who was Bearman’s childhood hero.

“I heard Jenson was praising me on Sky, and that was amazing for me to hear,” he adds.

“I don’t know why, but he was always the guy I loved and really looked up to. It is cool that he recognised my performance in practice, and I will try to speak to him here – that is my goal.”

Bearman will remain in F2 next season and he will be back in an F1 machine in practice for Haas – effectively Ferrari’s B team – next month in Abu Dhabi.

“It is really cool that I have been given this opportunity,” he said. “My whole career has been a pinch-yourself moment, and this is another one.

“Ferrari is such an elusive team. They are an iconic brand, they have an iconic colour and they have the best-looking car on the grid. They are putting a lot of trust in me, and loyalty is an important part of this paddock.

“Of course my goal is to become a Ferrari driver, and I need to do that with my performances on track. Today was an amazing moment, and one I will savour for years to come.

“It is a shame it was only practice, but it is all part and parcel of the work we have been doing to get to the top.”

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