09 March 2024

Max Verstappen wins again as young Briton Ollie Bearman finishes seventh

09 March 2024

Max Verstappen romped to another commanding win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, as rookie British teenager Ollie Bearman completed a dream debut by beating Lewis Hamilton to finish a brilliant seventh.

Despite threatening to quit Red Bull just 24 hours previously, following another twist in the ongoing Red Bull saga, Verstappen followed his win at the season-opening round in Bahrain last Saturday with another comfortable triumph in his all-conquering machine – remarkably his 19th in 20 appearances.

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

But for Bearman, just three months old when Hamilton made his debut in 2007, this will be a night he will never forget.

Handed his shock debut as an 11th-hour stand-in for Carlos Sainz, the boy from Chelmsford, 18 years, 10 months and one day, drove into the record books as the youngest British driver to start a Formula One race.

Standing at 6ft 3in, the streaky teen followed in the footsteps of British greats’ Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees by racing for the scarlet team – and the first Englishman to do so since Nigel Mansell 34 years ago.

Bearman appeared at ease before the start, smiling with his engineers and grinning from ear-to-ear as he addressed the Sky cameras before taking his position between Yuki Tsunoda and Kevin Magnussen at the front of the grid for the national anthem.

With just one hour of practice under his belt, and a qualifying appearance – labelled incredible by Verstappen – Bearman, starting 11th, was just moments away from competing against the best 19 drivers in the world.

As the lights flicked from red to green, Bearman was slower away that he would have liked but made up for it by being aggressive on his brakes and hanging on to 11th place, despite a slight detour off the track.

Up front and Verstappen had no trouble in keeping Leclerc at bay. Midway through the opening lap he was already 1.3 seconds clear of the chasing pack.

On lap seven, Lance Stroll put his Aston Martin in the barrier. The Canadian broke his suspension by clipping the armco on the entry to Turn 21 before slamming into the tyre barrier on the opposing side of the track.

Out came the safety car and in came the leaders – bar Norris and Hamilton – for fresh rubber.

Bearman, forced to wait as other cars drove by him as he was stationary, dropped three places to 12th.

Norris led when the race resumed, only for Verstappen to swoop past three laps later. Rookie Bearman was also on the move.

He immediately despatched of Tsunoda for 11th and was in a point-scoring position on lap 14 after he swatted aside Zhou for 10th.

You are doing a mega job out there

Up next was Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg – and Bearman was not mincing his words.

“Mate he is so slow,” said the 18-year-old of Hulkenberg, the German double his age and in his 205th Formula One start.

And on lap 21 he eased past the Haas driver for ninth, with George Russell only 5.6 sec up the road.

Bearman’s engineer Riccardo Adami was swiftly on the radio. “You are doing a mega job out there,” he said. It was hard to disagree.

Norris and Hamilton, both out of strategy sync after electing not to pit behind the safety car, stopped for fresh tyres and Bearman was now seventh and ahead of both of his countrymen.

When Norris stopped on lap 37 of 50, Bearman was 6.1 seconds up the road. Hamilton, was seven seconds adrift.

“At this pace will Norris catch us or not?” asked the teenager on the radio.

“We might have a chance to stay ahead of both of them,” came the reply from the Ferrari pit wall.

The lap counter ticked down but Bearman showed maturity way beyond his years to hold on to seventh place. McLaren’s Oscar Piastri took fifth ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ Russell.

Bearman took the chequered flag just 5.7 sec behind Russell and comfortably ahead of Norris and Hamilton.

It is only a matter of time before he is in Formula One

“He has done an incredible job,” said Leclerc of Bearman, who was voted by the fans as the driver of the 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.”

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