A record run of eight Italian F4 wins, plus four wins from six races in ADAC F4, puts Ollie Bearman in a position where he could become the first driver to win both titles in the same year. He explains how
While many of his rivals seemed to undo their own title ambitions with trips through the Tamburello gravel or spins at Variante Alta while at Imola, Van Amersfoort Racing’s Ollie Bearman extended his Italian Formula 4 championship lead by an unprecedented margin that means he will still be ahead in the title race for at least five races. By that same point, he could already be champion. Similarly, in ADAC F4 he holds an advantage that makes him title favourite there too.
In a television interview after his second win of the weekend at Imola, Bearman credited his form to a breakfast of muesli, banana and yoghurt. Formula Scout inquired further, asking what else has factored into a sophomore season that’s turned him from being the driver with the fifth-highest scoring average in 2020 to one who’s currently racking up in the series an average of 21.41 points per pace, a number matched just six times in FIA F4 and only in the less competitive Asian championships.
“Well, I think we’re standing right in front of it,” Bearman says as he chats to Formula Scout outside VAR’s awning.
“The switch that we made at the end of last year [from US Racing], I think it was pivotal to this season. I guess the way that they set the car up really suits my driving style, and I really click with the car and the people around me, and it just seems to work so far. I guess I’m quite a smooth driver. It’s not really suited towards an F4 car, I would say.”
Despite that mismatch with a car requiring a level of input comparable to the physical busyness of karting, it’s working well.
“Usually you have to drive this car with a bit of [oomph], usually you drive it with a lot of inputs, it’s quite ragged. Because you don’t have any downforce. But I think the way I drive really suits VAR’s car. Not so much last year, but it [the team switch] has enabled me to find a new limit almost.”
Bearman was set to compete in karts last year before impressive pace in tests with Mucke Motorsport and then with US in the ADAC F4 pre-season test convinced him to contest the season opener. He was 0.037 seconds short of pole on his debut, and from there contested more rounds until he was committed to the whole season and some Italian rounds on the side.
A win was claimed in both series, and Bearman’s management team at WH Sports – namely ex-tennis player Chris Harfield, who looks after contracts, and Liam Lawson’s coach Enzo Mucci – not only got him a seat at VAR for 2021 but also the one engineered by Rik Kasius [pictured above]. The Dutchman was behind the title successes of Joey Mawson (2016), Dennis Hauger (2019) and Jonny Edgar (2020), as well as engineering Frederik Vesti to four wins in 2018. According to Bearman, “he’s been a huge influence on this year”, and another link with Kasius’s former drivers is they all waited until their second years in F4 too.
“Obviously it would have been amazing to take a win as a rookie, but I think in hindsight it wouldn’t have made sense to go to this team last year with two Red Bull drivers in, because it will make sense that they get some kind of priority,” Bearman says.
“I think at the time it was a good decision to take another year, because the German F4 champion Edgar, that was his second season. Hauger the year before in Italy, he’s already done British F4. So I think you need that experience, and I think some drivers they’ll do a lot of testing, and it’s something that we simply couldn’t do last year.
“I think the initial plan was to just do a whole season of testing, but it’s a bit annoying. People who you’re testing with, you see them go racing and you feel a bit jealous almost. Maybe we rushed it, but I think looking back now it was for the better.
“We went into that [pre-season ADAC F4] test at Lausitzring and I was actually quite fast, surprisingly fast, so we decided to do the first round. And then from there it was just a snowball: we did the next one, we did the next one, and then we were on for the season. We initially planned to just do three races and keep the rookie status [for 2021], but I think there’s a lot of things that could have tripped me up this year had I not done that whole season. So I’m quite happy to have done it.”
Longest win streaks in top-level FIA Formula 4 championships
10 wins – Richard Verschoor (2016 Spain & NEZ), Hibiki Taira (2020 Japan)
8 wins – Ollie Bearman (2021 Italy*), Cameron Das (2016 US), Jonathan Aberdein (2017 UAE), Conrad Clark (2019 China), Ren Sato (2019 Japan)
7 wins – Bruno Carneiro (2016 China), Charles Leong (2017 China)
6 wins – Sho Tsuboi (2015 Japan), Kyle Kirkwood (2017 US), Jayden Ojeda (2018 Australia F4), Kas Haverkort (2020 Spain)
5 wins – Jordan Love (2016 SEA), Axel Matus (2016-17 NACAM), Daniel Lundgaard (2017 Denmark), Jordan Dempsey (2018 China), Yuki Tsunoda (2018 Japan), Alessandro Ghiretti (2018 SEA), Dennis Hauger (2019 Italy), Malthe Jakobsen (2019 Denmark)
4 wins – Julio Acosta (2015 China), Niko Kari (2015 NEZ), Jordan Lloyd (2015 Australia), Patricio O’Ward (2016 NACAM), Jarno Opmeer (2016 NEZ), Jamie Caroline (2017 Britain), Alexander Smolyar (2017 Spain), Charles Weerts (2018 UAE), Casper Tobias Hansen (2018 Denmark), Ugo de Wilde (2018 SEA), Zane Maloney (2019 Britain), Manuel Sulaiman (2019 NACAM), Francesco Pizzi (2020 UAE), Luke Browning (2020 Britain), Hunter Yeany (2020 US), Seita Nonaka (2021 Japan*),
*streak in progress
In addition to the “really good bunch of guys” at WH Sport and VAR behind Bearman, he and his Italian F4 rivals also all receive support from series organiser ACI Sport at every race weekend.
“The ACI, they put on like a briefing with some really cool guys, like Emanuele Pirro,” Bearman explains.
“He was working as a steward in Formula 1 at Silverstone, so he made the controversial decision last weekend [after Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided]. They basically show all the onboard moments from the previous F4 races, so we got to see the crash from [Cenyu] McQueen and [Joshua] Duerksen in Vallelunga. It also gives a bit of perspective, and it’s something that otherwise you would only learn by doing it yourself. I think it’s pretty cool. They also show the pole laps, which is quite nice. I mean, it’s not always nice…”
Bearman there is referring to the fact that he is often the driver whose lap is being shown, and Formula Scout sat in one of the sessions to see how it would unfold. Drivers could compare their data and onboard to that of the fastest, which was projected onto a large wall for all to see, and Pirro did the same with some of the incidents that required stewards investigations in Saturday’s race. There was a lot of ‘passionate points of view’ being shared between the penalised and Pirro.
“I think it’s a double-edged sword, like I also managed to watch [Sebastian] Montoya’s lap in Vallelunga and learn some things from it,” Bearman says. “I’m quite happy for that, and it’s really useful.”
With eight poles in 12 races, there hasn’t been too much racecraft practice for Bearman in Italy either, but he’s unbothered by that fact, particularly when his dual programme still provides the opportunity to develop those skills.
“I think it’s the best way to take a race win, starting from pole. It’s the easiest way. And it enables you to save your tyres best as well for the next races. That’s something that I really worked on in the pre-season and during collective tests.
“So I think that’s also a strength of mine. But I also get to experience racecraft in ADAC F4, especially the reversed-grid races. I managed to have a bit of a fight through the field before I crashed in Austria, which wasn’t really my fault. I also managed to try to do something at Zandvoort, but obviously it’s quite tough to overtake. But I think I still get to experience the racecraft.”
But as Bearman has won every ADAC F4 race so far that’s used a grid set by qualifying, there’s now a third programme where he’s not only testing his reactions in the pack but also learning how to drive with downforce: BRDC British Formula 3.
“So far I’ve had a really good experience with British F3. I’ve only tested a few tracks, but I managed to drive around some of the best that the UK has to offer. I really enjoyed Brands Hatch, it was a really old-school track. It was my first time on the Grand Prix loop as well in qualifying. It’s more of a mental track that you have to overcome – because basically if you make a mistake there you’re going to write the car off. It’s like it’s all in the mind. But I think I really suit that car, and cars like it, so it’s been really good so far and I hope to have another few strong rounds there. I think it would be good practice for the next year.”
That’s not a clue as to his 2022 plans, of which several parties some way higher up the single-seater ladder have enquired about, but his debut round in F3 resulted in two podiums and then a ninth from 18th on the grid, which put him a close second in the points after the season opener. His F4 commitments means he hasn’t raced in F3 since, but he’s planning to do at least two more rounds before the end of the year – similar to what Lando Norris and Colton Herta did after their rookie F4 seasons.
The F3 campaign is with Fortec Motorsports, but Bearman is spending more of his time in the Netherlands than the UK as he works in VAR’s simulator. At the factory he can virtually try out the team’s Regional F3 and Euroformula cars, and even if that is something Bearman is doing, he is staying tight-lipped about that and what he will be doing next year.
“I haven’t really thought about 2022, to be honest. I’m sure the guys around me are, my manager’s probably had a deep thought about it, but I like to just focus on 2021 and see how it plays out, and hopefully it can open a few more doors for me.”
Drivers who have won three races in a row in an FIA F4 round
8 times – Verschoor (2016 Aragon, Algarve, Valencia Ricardo Tormo, Jarama, Jerez, Moscow, Moscow, Anderstorp)
3 times – Aberdein (2017 Dubai, Yas Marina, Yas Marina), Ojeda (2018 Phillip Island, Queensland, Sydney), Haverkort (2020 Navarra, Valencia Ricardo Tormo, Jarama)
2 times – Bearman (2021 Vallelunga, Imola), Lloyd (2015 Sandown, Phillip Island), Thomas Randle (2015 Surfers Paradise, Homebush), Matus (2016 Aguascalientes, Mexico City), Carneiro (2016 Chengdu, Goldenport), Das (2016 Road Atlanta, Homestead-Miami), Kirkwood (2017 Indianapolis, Mosport), Daniel Cao (2017 Clark, 2018 Ningbo), Leong (2017 Goldenport, 2020 Zhuhai), Ghiretti (2018 Buriram, Sepang), Clark (2019 Ningbo, Qinhuangdao), Hauger (2019 Hockenheim, Monza), Franco Colapinto (2019 Valencia Ricardo Tormo, Barcelona) Taira (2020 Suzuka, Motegi)
Some of those doors have appeared as Bearman’s F4 exploits have garnered significantly more media attention in the last two months. After completing the triple win at Imola on Sunday, it means he has now gone unbeaten in eight races – a feat only bettered in F4 by Richard Verschoor and Toyota protege Hibiki Taira.
Since 2000 only two drivers have done it in top-level F3 competitions – Yuji Kunimoto won 10 in a row in 2010 and Sho Tsuboi won 12 in a row in 2018 in Japanese F3 – and in the history of international Formula Renault 2.0 only Dan Wells managed it with 10 wins on his way to the 2015 Asian title.
“It shows how the media – how your picture can change,” Bearman says of his recent increased profile.
“It’s obviously a welcome surprise. I think it’s testament to the hard work that I’ve put in and the team has put in, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything.
“It’s great to have some supporters, and it’s a nice feeling, but I like to do the talking on the track at least.”