Identical machinery and harmonized calendars have for many years given teams the chance to run a double programme in ADAC and Italian Formula 4, but no driver had won both titles in one year until 2021
Ollie Bearman and Van Amersfoort Racing were the dominant combination on both sides of the Alps, taking the driver, team and, through Nikita Bedrin, rookie titles in both series.
Bearman recently appeared on the Formula Scout Podcast to reflect on the year and his plans for the future. You can listen to it below, or find it on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
The German ADAC Formula 4 championship produced a season-long duel between Ollie Bearman and Tim Tramnitz, the top two rookies from 2020, with the pendulum swinging one way and then the other before being resolved in Bearman’s favour at the final race of the season.
The quality at the front of the grid was as high as ever, but the depth of the field caused concern. Only nine cars went to the Sachsenring and the ADAC has taken steps to try to reinvigorate the series for 2022.
Mucke Motorsport was absent, as the cost of competing on two fronts led the team to focus on Italy, while Red Bull had no juniors to place in the series. On a positive note, new entries came from Sauter Engineering + Design and BWR Motorsports.
The postponement and then cancellation of the scheduled Oschersleben opener due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant the season did not get underway until the visit to the Red Bull Ring in mid-June.
Having moved from US Racing to VAR for his second year in F4, Bearman started the year in explosive fashion. After topping the times in pre-season testing at Oschersleben he won both non-reversed grid races at the Red Bull Ring. A further two comfortable victories at Zandvoort in July gave him a 40-point lead after the series’ two rounds abroad.
Bearman and VAR “always knew that the first half of the season would be favouring us, because we went to tracks that have historically been strong for our car. I mean, our team has always been strong at the Red Bull Ring [and] has always been strong in Zandvoort”.
In fact, the team’s plan had initially been to prioritize Italian F4 but “after the first two rounds I was leading the championship by quite some margin”.
“At that point, we decided we may as well just finish it off as it’s been strong so far,” said Bearman. “There were no clashes, so we can still try and win both. But it made it quite difficult because we didn’t get to do a lot of the testing that, say, US Racing managed to do.”
His closest challengers at this stage were actually the Prema duo of Sebastian Montoya and Kirill Smal, but Prema took no further part in ADAC F4, having decided to focus on Italian F4. As a result, Montoya and Smal dropped to ninth and 10th respectively in the championship standings.
Reigning rookie champion Tramnitz stayed with US Racing for his sophomore season. He had struggled to match his rivals’ pace, notably at Zandvoort, although was unable to put his finger on the precise reason. “I don’t really know why but it was quite a difficult start to the season in Germany but still we’ve collected a good amount of points,” he told Formula Scout.
For Bearman, “despite the first half going really well, we were always looking at the second half thinking ‘oh, might get a bit tough’”, and he knew that VAR needed to “keep pushing” to beat US Racing.
The team co-owned by Ralf Schumacher came out fighting when the field reassembled at Hockenheim after a longer than scheduled summer break following the postponement of the Nurburgring round, with Tramnitz taking an overdue first win of the season in race two to break Bearman’s winning streak.
At the following round at the Sachsenring, Tramnitz took a double victory as US Racing dominated. Bearman endured a difficult weekend at a track where VAR always expected to struggle.
“We were in FP1 like 0.5s behind, so we were like ‘now we’ve got some work to do, guys’ in just one more free practice. So that was a quite a tough one,” Bearman admitted.
Despite qualifying eighth (of nine) for race two, he fought back to salvage fourth, and a second place from fifth on the reversed grid in race three limited the points damage to Tramnitz.
US Racing was still on top when the series made its second Hockenheim visit. Alex Dunne, who had switched from Spanish F4, proved the revelation of qualifying, as he took a stunning double pole in only his second outing with the team.
Unfortunately for the Irishman, poor starts in both races (“my mistake,” he admitted afterwards) and subsequent incidents put him out of contention, leaving the title rivals to duel at the front.
Race one featured the season’s most controversial incident when Bearman was given a five-second time penalty having been adjudged to have moved under braking to defend against a faster Tramnitz. At the time, Bearman felt harshly treated, arguing that data showed that he had not, in fact, moved in the braking zone. On reflection and safe in the knowledge that the title was won later on, he was prepared to “hold my hands up to that to be fair and take the penalty”.
The race win was inherited by R-ace GP’s Victor Bernier, the only time that a driver other than Bearman or Tramnitz took maximum points in a non-reversed grid race.
Tramnitz won comfortably in race two to reduce the gap to 23 points going into the final three races at the Nurburgring.
A lap one collision with Tramnitz in race one forced Bearman into the pits for a new wing, dropping him half a lap behind the field. As Bearman explained, Tramnitz “was around my outside in T2 and then I just had a snap in the middle of T2 and made contact with him and broke my front wing which was one of the few costly errors in the season”.
A timely safety car allowed him to regain contact with the field, and he put in a superb drive to recover to fifth.
“With the pace I had I could easily, if I had been a bit more conservative and just let Tramnitz have the position in T2, I think I had a lot more pace than him and I could have potentially saved it for another lap and overtaken him at a later stage, but hindsight is 20:20,” Bearman reflected.
A commanding win for him in race two left Tramnitz with too much to do in their title battle from sixth on the grid in race three. Bearman made another scintillating start (“I started eighth because I won race two and I think by the first braking zone I was up to third or fourth…, having already overtaken Tramnitz”) but a first corner collision for his German rival gave Bearman the title by 26 points on dropped scores.
Beyond the title contenders, reigning British F4 champion Luke Browning had a difficult year despite taking reversed-grid wins at the Red Bull Ring, after Montoya had been penalised for jumping the start, and Hockenheim. Browning cut a slightly forlorn figure at times, unable to match the pace of Tramnitz who was understood to have a stronger engine. Consistency brought third in the standings, but he infrequently challenged for wins.
The fourth member of US Racing’s line-up, Vlad Lomko, was never quite able to match the pace of his colleagues but did manage to hold off a charging Bearman to win the third race at the Sachsenring.
R-ace couldn’t match the two leading teams despite a strong roster of three French drivers, with Bernier joined by Sami Meguetounif and rookie Marcus Amand, who both visibly struggled. The team took responsibility for the lack of performance, with team principal Thibault de Merindol telling Formula Scout: “I can say that we did some mistakes, and we need to correct that for the future, so the driver line-up is not the reason for the results not being at the level that we wish.”
VAR’s Bedrin was the standout performer in a weak rookie field, comfortably taking that title as well as two outright wins in the reversed-grid races at the first Hockenheim event and the final race of the season at the Nurburgring.
Neither of VAR’s other drivers, Joshua Dufek and Cenyu Han, ran a full season. Dufek missed the Sachsenring round but ‘McQueen’ was forced to end his season after Zandvoort due to visa complications. Robert de Haan joined the team at the Nurburgring and was willing to dice with champion-elect and team-mate Bearman in only his second race weekend.
The new champion considers ADAC F4 the more rewarding of his two titles in 2021 as by running two full campaigns, VAR missed out on testing mileage at Hockenheim and the Sachsenring while US Racing prioritised its home series.
In its eighth season, the highly competitive Italian F4 championship was simply dominated by Bearman during a mid-season run of nine consecutive on-track wins. In doing that, he put VAR on track to reclaim the teams’ title from Prema.
A 37-strong field made the journey to Paul Ricard in France for the opening round, where Kirill Smal took his only victory of the season in race one.
Bearman threw away a shot at victory from pole position in race two as “I was sitting on the grid a bit nervous and all I could think about was not stalling the car. And then I stalled it… .”
This allowed Tramnitz, who had only entered “to drive a race before the German season starts” to take victories in the second and third races and with it an immediate championship lead.
However, US Racing’s focus remained resolutely fixed on ADAC F4, and Tramnitz missed the next round at Misano where Bearman began his winning streak with two victories, both from pole, to take a points lead he was not to relinquish.
In his strongest showing of the year, Iron Lynx’s Leonardo Fornaroli took his maiden win in race one before sharing the podium’s bottom two steps with Montoya in races two and three.
Tramnitz returned for round three at Vallelunga but was powerless to prevent a Bearman clean sweep at the Roman venue while Montoya enjoyed his strongest weekend of the year in terms of results with two second places.
Bearman took another hat-trick next time out at Imola, with Tramnitz again absent. However, he excluded from race three after post-race scrutineering deemed to find an engine irregularity – something which VAR protested – and this promoted team-mate Bedrin to first place.
After a seven-week break, Bearman won again in the first race at the Red Bull Ring from a returning Tramnitz after a mistake from polesitter Montoya on the first lap. Tramnitz survived multiple safety car interruptions to lead lights-to-flag in race two, and then the third race started behind the safety car due to falling rain.
Poleman Tramnitz didn’t immediately pit for wet tyres, but did next time around while Bearman chose to stay out on slicks.
Although conditions improved, wets were clearly the better option. Tramnitz fought back from 15th after his stop to take the lead from VAR’s Swiss-Austrian Joshua Dufek as the slick-shod Bearman fell back to 20th at the flag. Unsurprisingly, Tramnitz “really enjoyed [that] weekend, especially race three in the rain was really nice and good racing”.
Dufek dominated qualifying in the penultimate Mugello round to take all three pole positions. In the races, however, Mucke Motorsport’s Joshua Duerksen had the edge, taking two wins, although Dufek did hold on to win race two.
With Tramnitz stuck in some “pretty hectic races” in the midfield after a difficult qualifying, Bearman’s modest points haul for the weekend was enough to clinch the title.
“I just didn’t have the top speed,” Bearman explained. “I was bottom of every speed trap, and it was really disappointing to win the championship with three really shit finishes.”
His lack of straight-line speed wasn’t just dissapointing for himself, but also raised eyebrows with rivals and former F4 drivers who knew the loss of performance was not driver or particularly team related.
With the title in his pocket though, the pressure was off Bearman at Monza, as “I was just able to take more risks and I could kind of have fun with it.”
“I just rocked up on the Friday, did the free practices and went straight into quali.”
Qualifying threw up another surprise as AKM Motorsport’s rookie Lorenzo Patrese headed each session to take three poles, and Bearman noted “I think he had five horsepower more than everyone else”. However, Patrese’s inexperience showed in the races and he could only manage a best finish of fourth.
Bearman was back in imperious form in the races to storm to another triple win across a mix of weather conditions.
“Monza was really a highlight of the whole season,” he said. “I had a super good weekend where I definitely didn’t have a lot of top speed compared to some other cars for a number of reasons, but I still managed to win all three races at a track where you need a lot of top speed.”
After his error at Paul Ricard, Bearman and his VAR crew had focused specifically on improving his starts, and their efforts paid dividends as he sought to make up ground from lowly grid positions.
“In race two I started seventh and I was already third by the end of the first lap, and then race three I was leading by the end of the first lap from P8 and that was also a really good start.”
As a freshly signed member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, standing “on the podium [at Monza] was pretty cool, three times as well – it’s a really nice atmosphere”.
While Bearman took the spoils at the final round to end the season on a high with 11 wins in total, the event served notice of the arrival of another huge talent, Italian karting sensation Andrea Kimi Antonelli.
Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 junior Antonelli joined the field with Prema at the Red Bull Ring, having turned 15 the previous month, and took two highly impressive ninth places from his debut weekend racing single-seaters.
At Monza he led Prema’s challenge, racing Bearman hard en route to a second and two third places. He acknowledged that he had struggled in his early races but “every weekend I made a step, and I think this weekend is where I’m making the biggest step, where I’m learning the most”.
After a strong start to the season, an error-prone Montoya did not manage to take a win despite undoubted speed.
“It’s been an up-and-down year and we’ve been quite unlucky a few times,” he told Formula Scout after Monza. “It’s just been a really hard year but I’ve learned so much.”
Candidly acknowledging his own mistakes, he was able to draw a positive lesson as “the way you learn is by making stupid mistakes”.
In fact, it was an error by Montoya behind the safety car in the wet at Monza which allowed Prema team-mate Smal to edge past him and Fornaroli, who did not start after crashing out of race two, to take third in the championship standings.
Nikita Bedrin completed a rookie double for VAR against stronger competition, pipping Prema’s Conrad Laursen – already the 2020 Danish F4 champion – to the title when the Dane spun at the end of the final race.
|ADAC F4||Italian F4|
|5||Nikita Bedrin||147||5||Leonardo Fornaroli||180|
|6||Vlad Lomko||133||6||Joshua Duerksen||171|
|9||Sebastian Montoya||72||9||Conrad Laursen||60|
|10||Kirill Smal||70||10||Andrea Kimi Antonelli||54|
Further reading on ADAC and Italian F4
ADAC F4’s record low grid explained, and why it will be a one-off
Inside the highly-anticipated F4 debut of Mercedes’ Antonelli
How Ollie Bearman has risen “to find a new limit” in F4
How the ADAC F4 title battle began even before the season started