Max Verstappen takes pole as Ollie Bearman qualifies 11th in Saudi Arabia

By Sports Desk March 08, 2024

Teenager Ollie Bearman celebrated becoming the youngest British driver in Formula One history by qualifying 11th in his Ferrari for Saturday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Bearman, 18 years and 10 months to the day, was thrown into the deepest of ends as a last-minute stand-in for Carlos Sainz, who was hospitalised with appendicitis.

But the Essex teenager, with just one hour of practice under his belt, and having never driven an F1 machine at night, came within 0.036 seconds of toppling Lewis Hamilton and progressing to Q3.

Max Verstappen put Red Bull’s continued off-track woes to one side by taking pole position, with Charles Leclerc second, three tenths back, and Sergio Perez third.

Fernando Alonso took fourth, with George Russell and Hamilton seventh and eighth respectively for Mercedes. Hamilton was nearly one second slower than Verstappen.

Probably to Christian Horner’s relief, all eyes were off Red Bull and on Ferrari as Bearman followed in the footsteps of Britain’s first F1 champion Mike Hawthorn, and John Surtees – the only man to win a world title on two and four wheels.

He is the 12th British driver to race for Ferrari – and the first Englishman since Nigel Mansell in 1990. Lewis Hamilton will become the 13th next year.

Bearman was just 18 months old when Hamilton made his debut in 2007, and was not even born when Fernando Alonso entered his first F1 race.

But here in Jeddah on Friday, Bearman took to the same asphalt as the men who share nine world championships between them. And, remarkably, he came within a hair’s breadth of beating Hamilton.

Forced to abort his first run in Q2, Bearman returned to the track and hauled his Ferrari into 11th. He needed to be 10th to make it into Q3.

With the clock ticking down, Bearman geared up for his final run, and rode his Ferrari on rails in a valiant attempt to force his way through. His father David, the millionaire founder and CEO of the (re)insurance Aventum Group, was living every minute of his teenage son’s adventure at the back of the Ferrari garage.

Hamilton, failing to improve, afforded Bearman, 21 years the Mercedes’ man’ junior, a chance to beat him, only to come up agonisingly short. The Ferrari junior finished less than six tenths behind Leclerc – a commendable effort – in the other scarlet machine.

“That was a messy session,” said Bearman over the radio. “Sorry about that.”

Raised in Chelmsford, and schooled at King Edward VI Grammar, Bearman joined Ferrari’s driver academy, aged only 16, after he won both the German and Italian Formula Four championships.

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.

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

And, on Saturday, he will surpass Norris, who was 19 years, four months and four days when he made his debut in Australia in 2019, as the youngest British driver to start a Grand Prix.

Norris will line up in sixth for Saturday’s 50-lap race, and although the unstoppable Verstappen took his second pole in as many races, the night belonged to Bearman.

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