What’s really going on in the F2 team everyone is watching

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Imagine making your Formula 1 debut for Ferrari at incredibly short notice, absolutely nailing it, having people assert that you have done enough to earn an F1 drive – but then having to jump back into a Formula 2 car as your priority for the rest of 2024.

It’s quite the comedown from the highest of highs for Ollie Bearman, even if he’ll get six F1 practice outings with Haas later in the year and further test runs with Ferrari.

A nightmare season opener for his F2 team Prema, coupled with Bearman giving up bonus points for pole and the big points he probably would have scored in both races in Saudi Arabia, means he is currently 47 points behind leader Zane Maloney after just four races, with a big zero next to his name.

Even a maximum points score at F2’s third round in Melbourne this weekend – combined with a no-score for Maloney – wouldn’t propel Bearman into the F2 lead. But his team boss Rene Rosin remains convinced that “anything is possible” in this campaign.

Bearman would need to outscore Maloney by two points per race for the rest of the season to overhaul him. That’s going to be extremely tough but it’s doable. The gap is 47 points, but there are still a considerable 468 points available.

And there’s precedent, too. Obviously no F2/GP2 champion has raced in F1 during their title-winning year like Bearman has, but then-Prema driver Mick Schumacher overturned a 51-point deficit for his title in 2020 and George Russell came from 36 points adrift of Lando Norris to win in 2018.

And regardless of whether he can claw his way back into the title fight, Bearman’s already proved he’s more than ready for an F1 shot in 2025.

“Honestly, he did an amazing job first of all, and we were all really happy and really proud about the job he’s done,” says Rosin, speaking to The Race at last weekend’s Sebring 12 Hours sportscar race.

“This is the third year he’s been with us, that we are working with Ollie. Since the moment he joined us in Formula 3, he was absolutely there, on target, fighting for wins, fighting for the championship in the end.

“Last year he was one of the best rookies [in F2], winning the most difficult races from Baku, Barcelona, Monza. You go from no degradation in Baku to high degradation in Barcelona, so he did a very, very good job.

“And we were not surprised actually. Jumping in Friday morning into the Formula 1 car just before FP3 – looking at what he has done, he has done a mega job.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (left) and Ferrari's Ollie Bearman (right) talking and walking at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2024

“But now his mindset needs to come back to Formula 2.

“The year in Formula 2, it will be a tough season because of course we lost points in Bahrain, we lost the weekend in Saudi, but everything is still possible, we just need to concentrate – once again, as we always say – race by race, and try to maximise the results.”

Bahrain was an awful start to the year for the team regularly labelled ‘the best outside of F1’ – one which has run nine of the 21 drivers to have raced in F1 this year at some point in junior formulas.

It’s true that Sakhir has been a bogey track in recent years as the extreme tyre wear caused issues. Prema even pioneered the extremely unusual strategy of pitting during a sprint race back in 2017 to give Charles Leclerc his first win of a title-winning F2 campaign that would propel him to F1 the following year.

“The result in Bahrain was not what we were expecting,” adds Rosin.

“It was quite tough for us overall. Both cars were not performing as we were expecting to do. Bahrain has been something difficult for us in the last few years. From what we understand, Bahrain I think was mostly related to set-up decisions.

Ollie Bearman of Prema Racing turns right in the Bahrain Formula 2 weekend, 2024

“Of course, the track is a bit particular in Bahrain so a lot of tyre degradation, a certain type of corner that compromised our performance, but already in Jeddah we were back where we are expected to be. And now I think Melbourne will be another benchmark where we can prove that we are going in the right direction.

“I don’t see any worry or drama coming up.

“We worked a lot after Bahrain, engineers together with drivers to make sure that we understand the mistakes we have done. And I think already the response that we had just a week later in Jeddah was something very, very positive.”

How Prema’s other F1 protege is getting on

A close up of Andrea Kimi Antonelli in the cockpit of his Prema Racing Formula 2 car at Bahrain, 2024

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the other most hyped junior driver of the year (who just happens to be Bearman’s F2 team-mate).

Both Bearman and Andrea Kimi Antonelli debuted in F2 as 17-year-olds.

The pair have had a pretty similar career curve, both doing two years in F4, the only difference being that Bearman then jumped to FIA F3 – which is much closer to F2 than the Formula Regional European Championship Antonelli spent last season in.

The difference has obviously been that Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari, and the subsequent speculation that Antonelli is in the frame to replace him if he has a strong F2 campaign, places a level of pressure on Antonelli unlike anything faced by a Mercedes junior that has gone before him.

Even when you think back to Russell’s maiden F2 campaign – which he went into with many more years of car experience than Antonelli and a GP3 title the year before – he wasn’t realistically in the frame for a Mercedes seat. It shows you how highly Antonelli is rated, but also the level of pressure on him so early on.

Bearman has been able to develop under the radar. He won some big races in his first F2 season in 2023, and it was always expected that he would get his learning out of the way before going for the title in his second season.

His bonus F1 outing with Ferrari was out of the blue, but only after that appearance is he now properly in the F1 limelight. Most of Bearman’s rookie year was spent in the shadows.

That hasn’t at all been the case for Antonelli.

So how has it gone so far?

Andrea Kimi Antonelli heading into Turn 3 in Formula 2 at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, 2024

Antonelli and Prema gambled on stopping in the sprint race in Bahrain but, as the Italian said, “it didn’t really pay off” and he finished well out of the points in 14th.

He said he could have fought in the top 10 on a better strategy and proved that in the feature race as he charged from 17th to claim his first point for 10th, despite receiving a hit from behind on the first lap that dropped him even further down the order. He finished both races ahead of Bearman.

In Jeddah, he was only just over two tenths shy of his team-mate’s pole time and was unlucky in the sprint when his car went into anti-stall at the start. That compromised his race but he fought back well to finish sixth, even with a misjudged move on Jak Crawford at Turn 1 that cost him a front wing endplate.

Kush Maini leads the Formula 2 field into Turn 1 in the Saudi Arabian Formula 2 sprint race

Sixth is exactly where he finished in the feature race one day later too, once again facing a familiar rookie problem.

“The start of the feature race was much better, then I was struggling with the pace throughout the whole race as I had some understeer,” Antonelli explained.

“That cost us some laptime, but we were also quite unlucky because some drivers pitted with the safety car and moved in front of us gaining a lot of places.

“Of course, not the results we wanted, but it was a big step compared to Bahrain. We’ll see how it goes in Melbourne.”

Andrea Kimi Antonelli leans over his Prema Racing Formula 2 car in Bahrain, 2024

The lofty expectations on Antonelli mean being 10th in the championship with 12 points after four races is not the kind of form you might expect from a driver who might replace seven-time F1 champion Hamilton in 2025.

But it’s worth remembering that Antonelli has come from Formula Regional cars (something of an intermediate step between Formula 4 and Formula 3), without high-wear Pirelli tyres, significant aero or ground effect, carbon brakes and anywhere near as much power as the F2 car.

Plus, Antonelli hadn’t driven the first three tracks on the calendar before going there with F2.

It was always going to be a big ask to come in and win races right away. But if he’s already that good in Jeddah, it’s hard to see Antonelli not fighting for wins and podiums on more familiar ground.

Team boss Rosin is pleased with Antonelli’s performance so far and was quick to point out the experience deficit Antonelli is overcoming.

“We must remember it was his second weekend coming from Formula Regional,” says Rosin (pictured below) reflecting on the start made by Antonelli, whose second weekend also came with the added problem of Bearman’s absence – which meant he and the team had no extra data to work off between races.

Rene Rosin, team principal of the Prema Racing team

“It’s a huge gap in cars, a huge gap in power, a huge gap in preparation because of course we are talking about cars that have ground effect, complicated aero, the tyres, brakes, so a big difference.

“His first weekend has been pretty tough, but I think it was more tough due to our set-up choice and everything else.

“Second weekend, three tenths from the pole in quali with a mistake in his flying lap. Top six, honestly he is doing a very good job.

“Of course in the race he is not performing as we want yet, but on the other hand, we are really happy about his progression. I think our good season with him will start when he starts knowing the circuits, so back in Europe, and puts in place all the learning that is happening now in this first part of the season.”

It was always possible that a combination of Antonelli’s inexperience and Prema’s difficult history in Bahrain would result in a tricky start to 2024, and that’s before you consider its de facto lead driver being removed from pole position to make an impromptu Ferrari F1 debut in Jeddah.

But you’d be a brave onlooker to write off Prema – and Saudi was already a sign that you shouldn’t.

The bigger questions are likely to be how quickly Bearman can refocus on his F2 campaign and whether he can still fight for the title, and whether Antonelli can make the jump forward his team expects of him on more familiar circuits.

Melbourne will start to answer some questions on Bearman. The expectations on him might well go through the roof now he’s proven himself at the top level, but those on Antonelli still need to be managed – even if he was only two tenths off pole in his second F2 qualifying session.

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