Damon Hill said a star was born after rookie teenager Ollie Bearman beat Lewis Hamilton on his shock Ferrari debut at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Bearman drove into the record books by becoming the youngest British driver to race in Formula One and he delivered by finishing seventh, ahead of both Lando Norris, eighth and Hamilton, ninth.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton waited by Bearman’s Ferrari before embracing the 18-year-old as he climbed out of his scarlet machine at the end of the race.

“A star is born now,” Hill, the 1996 world champion, said on X. “To jump in at such short notice, on a track as intimidating as Jeddah, in a Ferrari of all things, and hold up under immense pressure from Lando and Lewis and keep it together. Wow.”

Max Verstappen raced to his second win in as many weeks, but Bearman, an eleventh hour stand-in for Carlos Sainz, ruled out with appendicitis, stole the show.

With just one hour of practice and Friday’s qualifying session under his belt, Bearman lined up in 11th and made up four positions in a fine drive which saw him voted as driver of the day by the sport’s fans.

Sergio Perez completed a one-two finish for F1’s crisis-hit Red Bull team, with Charles Leclerc third for Ferrari.

“He has done an incredible job,” said Leclerc of Bearman, 18 years, 10 months and one day.

“He was straight on the pace. Seventh in your first race in a new Formula One car is hugely impressive.

“I am sure he is extremely proud and everyone has noticed how talented he is. It is only a matter of time before he is in Formula One.”

The new Formula One season begins in Bahrain on Saturday with Max Verstappen bidding to win a fourth consecutive world championship.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the key questions heading into the 2024 campaign.

Who is the favourite to win the title?

Red Bull’s preparations for the new season have been overshadowed by allegations facing team principal Christian Horner. Horner, who is fighting to save his career following a claim of “inappropriate behaviour” by a female colleague, insists it is business as usual at Red Bull. Off-track it has been anything but for the team which has dominated the sport for the past two seasons. But on-track it has been precisely that.

Verstappen — in an upgrade of the machine which carried him to 19 victories from 22 rounds last year — set a blistering pace on the opening day of last week’s test, finishing 1.1 seconds quicker than anybody else.

Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, summed up the ominous feeling in the paddock. Writing about Verstappen on ‘X’ he said: “He’s gloating. He’s taunting us. He knows. This year is going to be one long victory lap. You cannot begrudge anyone their success. All we can do is watch and admire.”

So, can anyone challenge Verstappen and Red Bull?

Ferrari ended last year with five pole positions from the final nine races and Carlos Sainz secured the only non-Red Bull win of the season in Singapore. The Italian team have worked hard over the winter on translating their one-lap pace into race conditions, where they tended to struggle in 2023.

They will take solace from a trouble-free test and their pace appeared relatively encouraging, too. Sainz topped the time charts on the second day, while Leclerc ended the final day quickest – albeit on speedier rubber than Verstappen.

An upbeat Leclerc said: “We are in a much better place and it is an easier car to drive. The feeling was good. We have been consistent straight away and this will help us in the race.”

And what about Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Hamilton stunned the sporting world by choosing to quit Mercedes and join Ferrari in 2025. The news broke earlier this month and is likely to be difficult for those at Mercedes to digest. Hamilton took the decision – one he described as the hardest of his life – after two winless years with the Silver Arrows.

Mercedes are armed with a new design philosophy for the new campaign but – although both Hamilton and team-mate George Russell spoke of an improved, more reliable machine – there was little to suggest from testing that they have closed the gap to Red Bull.

Mercedes finished ahead of Ferrari in last year’s constructors’ championship but do not be surprised if the Scuderia start the new season ahead of them.

What about the other teams?

McLaren came alive in the second half of 2023, with Lando Norris scoring seven podiums. But the British team looked short of last year’s form in Bahrain last week – although it is a track which has not always suited them in recent seasons.

Aston Martin finished fifth in the constructors’ championship, with Fernando Alonso, now 42, leading their charge for a second season. Alpine are set to head the midfield, with Williams, the newly-rebranded RB and Sauber teams (nee AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo) and Haas likely to follow.

Have there been any driver changes?

No. This season’s line-up is the same as the previous year – the first time that’s ever happened. But with Hamilton already announcing his move to Ferrari for 2025 and 13 of the 20 drivers out of contract at the end of the season – next year’s grid is sure to have a whole different feel about it.

What else happened during the winter break?

Aside from Hamilton’s blockbuster transfer, his soon-to-be Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc penned a new deal which is expected to keep the 26-year-old Monegasque dressed in red until 2029. Lando Norris also extended his stay with McLaren until at least the end of 2026.

Andretti’s move to become the 11th team on the grid was blocked by F1 bosses. The British Grand Prix will remain on the calendar for another decade after Silverstone agreed a new long-term deal with F1’s American owners’ Liberty Media.

How does the calendar look?

There will be a record-breaking 24 races – the longest season in history – starting in Bahrain on March 2 and ending in Abu Dhabi nine months and six days later.

The Chinese Grand Prix returns after five years away, while the round in Japan moves from its traditional October slot to April. The roster features six sprint races in China, Miami, Austria, Austin, Qatar and Brazil. The format has been tinkered with, too. Qualifying for the sprint will now take place on Friday, with the grid for Sunday’s main event decided on Saturday, following the shortened race.

What else do I need to know?

The opening two races will both take place on a Saturday. The Muslim holy period of Ramadan starts on March 10. As such, the second round in Saudi Arabia has been brought forward by a day. FIA rules stipulate there must one week between races, meaning the Bahrain GP will also be 24 hours earlier than usual.

Jenson Button and Damon Hill have paid tribute to Indy 500 winner Gil De Ferran, who has died aged 56.

The Brazilian reportedly suffered a heart attack in Florida.

Button wrote on Instagram: “Still in shock that we lost one of the good ones so young, one of the best behind the wheel and all round great guy Gil De Ferran. I will miss that wonderful smile, rest in peace my friend.”


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Fellow Formula One world champion Hill tweeted: “One of the nicest guys I ever met. He made me laugh. He got it.

“Jesus, Gil, you left too soon. My sincere condolences to his lovely family and all who knew him (there are many, many, many) and all at McLaren. He was a fighter and a winner. Big loss.”

De Ferran won the Indy 500 for Team Penske in 2003.

Team boss Roger Penske said in a statement: “We are terribly saddened to hear about today’s tragic passing of Gil De Ferran. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Angela, Anna, Luke and the entire De Ferran family.

“Gil defined class as a driver and as a gentleman. As an INDYCAR Champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, Gil accomplished so much during his career, both on and off the track.

“Gil was beloved by so many. He was a great friend to the Team Penske and INDYCAR family, as well as the entire international motorsports community. Gil’s passing is a terrible loss and he will be deeply missed.”

Michael Schumacher’s one-time rival Damon Hill has described the German’s plight as a “terrible tragedy” and a reminder to “treasure every day”.

On Friday, it will mark 10 years since Schumacher’s skiing accident in the French Alps where he hit his head on a rock and suffered a near-fatal brain injury.

Schumacher, now 54, has been kept out of public view ever since, with only a handful of visitors allowed inside the family home near Lake Geneva in Switzerland where he is receiving round-the-clock medical care.

The former Ferrari and Benetton driver claimed the first of his seven world championships following a controversial season finale in Adelaide in 1994 where he was accused of ramming Hill off the road.

Reflecting on Schumacher’s condition, Hill, 63, told the PA news agency: “It is a terrible tragedy. This is not how you want anyone to end up.

“It makes you treasure every day and be thankful for your good fortune. I think about his family. It is so hard for them.”

Updates regarding Schumacher’s health have been few and far between, and a representative for the family told PA that there are no plans to acknowledge the anniversary of his accident.

His wife Corinna, offered a rare insight on her husband’s state in a Netflix documentary in 2021.

“I miss Michael every day,” said Corinna, who has enforced a wall of secrecy to protect one of the biggest names in modern sporting times.

“But it is not just me who misses him. It’s the children, the family, his father, everyone around him. I mean, everybody misses Michael, but Michael is here.

“Different, but he’s here, and that gives us strength. We’re together. We live together at home. We do therapy. We do everything we can to make Michael better and to make sure he’s comfortable. And to simply make him feel our family, our bond.

“‘Private is private’, as he always said. It’s very important to me that he can continue to enjoy his private life as much as possible. Michael always protected us and now we are protecting Michael.”

Schumacher added to the two titles he won at Benetton with five championship triumphs for Ferrari at the turn of the century, posting a series of records many viewed as untouchable.

Lewis Hamilton has since matched Schumacher’s collection of titles and surpassed his 91 wins. Hamilton, 38, who is contracted to drive for Mercedes until the end of 2025, has 103 victories.

Schumacher’s son, Mick, is currently a reserve driver for Hamilton’s Mercedes team having spent two seasons with Haas before he was dropped at the end of last year.

Damon Hill has praised Lewis Hamilton for the “admirable” way he “kept his chin up” after the controversy of Abu Dhabi – and believes the Mercedes man is “absolutely motivated” to win a record eighth world title.

Eighteen months have passed since Hamilton lost out to Max Verstappen at the contentious season finale, with his Dutch rival going on to take last year’s title too.

And Verstappen, 69 points clear in this season’s championship, is primed to complete his hat-trick.

Hamilton, 38, has not won a race since the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign – the longest losing streak of his career – but he heads to this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix following two consecutive podium finishes in his revamped Mercedes machine.

“It is admirable the way Lewis kept his chin up after what happened in Abu Dhabi,” Hill, the 1996 world champion, told the PA news agency.

“He got back on with the task in hand and he is driving better again this year than he has done before. He is starting to gel with that car now and he has solved some of the problems he faced.

“So I would be amazed if he doesn’t want to go out on a high by winning that eighth title, and he is absolutely motivated by that. He has got that longevity and he looks after himself.

“He needs a competitive car, half-a-chance, and someone like Lewis will rise up to that challenge and find more in himself. At the moment we are seeing a happier Hamilton, and a happy Hamilton is a fast Hamilton.”

The British driver’s future on the grid, however, remains a hot topic of speculation.

Hamilton has entered the final six months of his current £40million-a-season contract with Mercedes. But despite a string of recent discussions with team principal Toto Wolff, a conclusion to the saga is not understood to be imminent.

“The talk is that Lewis is finalising a much longer-term deal that goes beyond his racing career,” added Hill, 62.

“The car company itself is involved, so there is a bit more bureaucracy in this deal.”

Hamilton is already 93 points behind Verstappen in the standings after the Red Bull driver raced to his sixth victory from eight rounds to equal Ayrton Senna’s career tally of 41 wins last time out in Canada.

Following Verstappen’s triumph, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said his star driver must now be considered among Formula One’s all-time greats.

“Comparing different eras is quite difficult,” said Hill, who was speaking at his Halow Project charity event in Sandown following a world-first kart run on Zero synthetic fuel.

“They do many more races than they used to in the sport. But, nevertheless, in every era there are one or two drivers who are the cream of the crop, and you have to say Max is one of them, along with Lewis and Fernando (Alonso).

“I certainly see him having his own era called ‘the Max Verstappen era’ where he wins practically everything.

“If you appreciate great drivers and the job they do then it is great to watch. But I understand people want to see a race and not a demonstration and we have to be patient and hope the others catch him up pretty quickly.”

The finale to the 2021 Formula One world championship was fitting entertainment at the end of an extraordinary season.

On the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Max Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton and crossed the line in first place to become world champion for the first time.

Hamilton had looked on course for a record eighth driver's title until the safety car came onto the track after Nicholas Latifi crashed with four laps remaining.

It led to a thrilling but controversial finish – but should it have been done differently?

What happened?

Latifi hit the barriers on lap 54 and the safety car was deployed while the track was cleared.

Given Hamilton had been approximately 12 seconds clear in the lead at the time, Red Bull opted to pit Verstappen for fresh tyres in case a late dash for the chequered flag became a possibility. Hamilton stayed out, his team having warned that bringing him in for a tyre change would have given up track position to his title rival.

Discussions were then held between the respective team principals and race director Michael Masi over how the race would be concluded.

Red Bull's Christian Horner asked why cars that had already been lapped were not being allowed to pass the safety car once it was safe, which would have cleared the track between Verstappen and Hamilton and allowed for a last-lap race for the line.

Race Control, having initially declared that lapped cars would not be released, then gave the order for the five drivers keeping Verstappen from the back of Hamilton to pass the safety car.

This meant that, once the safety car left the track, racing could resume for one final lap – giving Verstappen, on far fresher tyres, the opportunity he needed to pass Hamilton and win the race, thereby clinching the title by just eight points.

Shortly after the race, Mercedes lodged an appeal against the result, citing alleged breaches of Article 48.8 and Article 48.12 of the rulebook: the first relates to overtaking under the safety car, while the second concerns the process of releasing lapped cars.


Why was it controversial?

The Formula One regulations for 2021 state: "If the clerk of the course considers it safe to do so, and the message 'LAPPED CARS MAY NOW OVERTAKE' has been sent to all competitors via the official messaging system, any cars that have been lapped by the leader will be required to pass the cars on the lead lap and the safety car.

"This will only apply to cars that were lapped at the time they crossed the line at the end of the lap during which they crossed the first safety car line for the second time after the safety car was deployed. Having overtaken the cars on the lead lap and the safety car these cars should then proceed around the track at an appropriate speed, without overtaking, and make every effort to take up position at the back of the line of cars behind the safety car. 

"Whilst they are overtaking, and in order to ensure this may be carried out safely, the cars on the lead lap must always stay on the racing line unless deviating from it is unavoidable. Unless the clerk of the course considers the presence of the safety car is still necessary, once the last lapped car has passed the leader the safety car will return to the pits at the end of the following lap."

The rules do not specify whether the race director may allow only some of the lapped cars to pass, and not all. This is why Michael Masi's decision to release only the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton, allowing for a final lap of racing between the title contenders, has caused such a debate.


What has been said?

Horner told Sky Sports: "We felt hard done by with the stewards at the beginning of the race, but they did great to get the race going again.

"We were screaming at him [Michael Masi]: 'Let them race'. That's what we've been talking about all year and this championship came down to the last lap. A great strategy call to make that pit stop, to take that set of softs, and then it was down to Max to make it happen.

"It's unheard of to leave the cars unlapped. You could see they wanted to get the race going again, and they don't need to catch up the back of the paddock. They made absolutely the right call - difficult circumstances, and they called it right."

George Russell, who will join Mercedes for the 2022 season, said on Twitter: "THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! Max is an absolutely fantastic driver who has had an incredible season and I have nothing but huge respect for him, but what just happened is absolutely unacceptable. I cannot believe what we've just seen."

Lando Norris, the McLaren driver who was one of those allowed to pass the safety car, said: "I'm not too sure what was said from the FIA. At first, we weren't allowed to overtake, as the backmarkers, so if that influenced decisions to Mercedes and to Lewis and that's the reason they didn't do their pit-stop...

"But then the FIA suddenly changed their minds and they were allowed to let us past. That's where I'm not so sure. For it to end like that, I'm not so sure."

Damon Hill, the world champion in 1996, said on Sky Sports: "This is like running a motor race in a way we've not been used to in the past. They've kept us guessing all the time as to which way a decision is going to go. One team who is not going to be complaining about what happened is Red Bull."

Nico Rosberg, who won the 2016 title, said: "First they said you're not allowed to unlap themselves, then they changed that message once they saw it was safe to do so.

"The thing is that in the document it says 'all cars will be required to unlap themselves' and yet they only let those five cars that were between Lewis and Verstappen unlap themselves. That's where Mercedes are asking if it's okay or not. But I guess in the end Michael Masi can decide what he wants, he's the race director."

Jenson Button, the 2009 champion, said: "It definitely went Max's way only letting those five cars past but earlier in the race it sort of went Lewis' way. Michael Masi wants to get them racing, he doesn't want to decide the world championship."

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