There’s no question that joining the most successful team statistically in Formula 3 history puts a certain amount of pressure on a driver’s shoulders. Oliver Bearman’s 2022 campaign has shown he has risen to that challenge and proved he has the pace and the promise to deliver.
His performances have improved as the season has worn on. The podium in the Bahrain Sprint was a high-water mark for a while but consistent Feature Race podiums eventually gave way to a maiden victory at Spa-Francorchamps.
It has meant that, quietly, Bearman has put his name in contention for the Formula 3 Drivers’ Championship heading into the final round of the season on PREMA Racing’s home turf.
“I think the overall pace has been quite strong this season so far. I've always been fighting relatively near the front and around my teammates, so I've been pretty happy with the general pace so far in Qualifying and the races and that’s something I can keep improving.
“The whole grid is separated by just half a second at times, the difference between a pole position and a top ten lap can sometimes be a tenth. You really need to be on it every time, the level is super high. It's really, really difficult and I was shocked by how tight it really is, but I'm really enjoying it and thriving, I'd say.”
Bearman started on the front foot in Sakhir, securing a P2 and P6 finish in his first outings with PREMA but from there, things took a downward turn. A run of non-points finishes between Imola and the Barcelona Sprint left the Briton lagging behind in the points table, but in the following nine races, he failed to score just once.
Consistency has been the theme of the season for Bearman. His Qualifying performances in particular have been a bright spot. Up until Zandvoort, Bearman hadn’t qualified outside of the top eight all season, and that blotch on his copybook was down to an ill-timed Red Flag that prevented him from finishing his final lap just a few meters before crossing the line.
“My season so far has been quite difficult. There's been some things where I haven't quite delivered as I would have liked, especially at the start of the season. I’ve just not quite maximised everything on some occasions and that's why I would be quite harsh on myself.
“I'm obviously happy with where we stand, but I feel like I had a bit of missed potential at the start of the season. I think the middle third of the season has been solid, so I just want to keep building on those performances.
“In Barcelona, I lacked a bit of race pace, and it took me a bit of time to get my head around it because in the Sprint Race I really didn't have any pace at all, I dropped out the points. We managed to sort it for the Feature Race, but it was again another points loss, which was really unnecessary.”
Those lost points early on stem from his inexperience, but as the man himself points out, he has progressed. So too has his ability to balance the fine line between attacking, defending and getting himself to the finish line.
“We lost quite a few points in the first two rounds, especially in Imola, down to bad decisions on the racing side. I had a few incidents in the first race which were completely on me, and then I had the last lap incident in the Feature Race. I think it was a bit hot-headed trying to do too much. I think I’ve learnt from it quite well.”
His points-scoring record has led him slowly but surely reaching the periphery of title contention. The momentum had been with the Brit after a stellar weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, with a victory and P3 finish in the Sprint and Feature Races respectively.
While his Zandvoort results mean he now has an uphill battle at the final round of the season, Bearman has shown he has the speed to put himself in contention by qualifying well. From there, he has learned lessons from earlier this season that calmness is key.
If he can keep himself out of trouble, there’s no telling where things might end up with the Monza layout promoting plenty of overtaking.
“I want to make sure I'm not doing these points losses again and keep the solid Qualifying and race pace. I feel like it's been getting better and better, so I think we can keep improving on that side. Obviously, the season is pretty tight, so I just want to keep a cool head and not take any silly risks.”
He will need to take each opportunity as they arise, weigh the risk versus reward carefully and fight to the very end. Those ahead in the standings will be prioritising points over passes so if Bearman can play the game to perfection, he could still checkmate his rivals and claim the title.