Laughing and joking around with his fellow drivers and team in the paddock - on the face of it, Oliver Bearman is in every way a regular teenager. Yet his rookie Formula 3 season has seen the 17-year-old truly come of age, going from an up-and-coming talent on the Formula 4 scene to a force to be reckoned with in the third tier.

Claiming one victory and eight podiums – the most of any driver in the 2022 campaign – Bearman eclipsed his highly-rated PREMA Racing teammates Arthur Leclerc and Jak Crawford and alongside Trident’s Zane Maloney, put the pressure on eventual champion Victor Martins all the way to the end, finishing an impressive third in the Drivers’ Standings.

While he admitted he didn’t have any pre-season expectations to be in with a shot at glory, the taste of success is slightly bittersweet. Acknowledging that several rookie errors cost him the potential for more, Bearman’s candour and honesty reflects the journey he’s undergone all year that has moulded him into a more complete package.

“The second half of the season was really consistent. I always found myself up there fighting at the front for the podium,” he remarked. “I had the most out of anyone and consistency is super important in a Championship like this.

He crossed the line first in the opening Sprint Race of the season in Sakhir but was demoted to second following a five-second penalty for track limits
He crossed the line first in the opening Sprint Race of the season in Sakhir, but was demoted to second following a five-second penalty for track limits

“The start of the year was really up-and-down. It took me too long to find my feet, that's why I didn't win the Championship. That’s where I look back and think there are the obvious kind of moments where I didn't win the Championship or where I lost crucial points. Overall, I'm happy with the job we did and also, I’m happy that we took back the Teams’ Championship.”

READ MORE: Crawford's Guest Column: Lessons learned after up and down 2022 season

There’s no doubt that the weight of many people’s expectations rested on the young man’s shoulders heading into the year. Bearman had already built a reputation for himself and written his name into the history books by becoming the first driver to achieve two successive Formula 4 titles in the same season, winning the ADAC and Italian F4 Championships in 2021.

Not only that, but he was also stepping up to drive for PREMA Racing, the team that had taken Robert Shwartzman, Oscar Piastri and Dennis Hauger to three consecutive titles. Carrying the prestigious Prancing Horse on his #6 car, the Ferrari Academy junior knew that he had to perform.

“I think it was a positive pressure to be honest. Going straight into PREMA was really a great feeling, that they trusted me to drive their car considering they are the most successful F3 team so far. I knew every weekend the car’s potential, so if I wasn’t there then it was my fault. I knew where I needed to be, and I think I’ve taken it in my stride.”

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Ascending straight through from F4 to F3 was a major leap of faith for Bearman, but one that he had braced himself for. Providing a training ground for the stars of tomorrow, the Championship’s setup gave him the ideal learning opportunity to recognise and adapt to the challenges he could face on the road to Formula 1. Nevertheless, he relished the chance to evolve his racecraft and master the various aspects of the race weekend.

“It’s quite a big jump. The hardest thing is the tyre management in the races. They are much more prone to degradation throughout the race, so it's pretty difficult compared to F4. You really have to manage the whole race because otherwise near the end you're going to lose a lot of time. That was the hardest thing for me to get my head around and it took me a while, but I think I'm there now.

“Another difficult thing is Qualifying. You only really get one lap on each set of tyres, which is difficult, and you really need to push a bit into the unknown because you don't quite know where the grip is. In F4, we had three or four laps on each set of tyres, so we knew exactly how to do the perfect lap. In F3, it's much more difficult to do the perfect lap because you have less opportunities, less testing beforehand and traffic, so it's a bit scrappy but I found it really fun.”

READ MORE: Karting prepared me for ‘completely different’ style of driving in F3 says Mini

After dovetailing two F4 campaigns with a partial GB3 campaign last year, the nine round setup came as somewhat of a relief for the Brit. Even with a less hectic schedule, he certainly wasn’t putting his feet up, using the in-season gaps to reflect and reassess in order to come back even stronger as the year progressed.

“It was much less busy in terms of the number of races compared to my first two years in car racing. I’ve only had nine race weekends this year, so at the start I was feeling a bit lost. It’s good to find a balance. Last year, I found myself getting burnt out because I was pretty busy, but this year it’s nice, you can fully focus on every round and be 100% ready for all of them.

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“The calendar has been really nice because there’s been three rounds, then a break, then three rounds and another break. It’s been a good way to basically look back on the season a third at a time and look at the positives, the negatives and where to improve for the next stage.

"After Barcelona, we all sat down with FDA, my manager and my engineer and had a massive meeting where we spoke about what’s gone well, what can be improved and what we need to focus on. So, during the middle third of the season I felt like I’d been pretty strong and scored some really good points and then we did the same for the final third.”

READ MORE: Martins' Guest Column: Journey to the title made me a better driver

His development culminated in a dramatic final three rounds and the swirling emotions that come with triumph and tribulations. He took his first trip to the top step of the podium at Spa-Francorchamps, securing a commanding victory in the Sprint Race, something which had been close yet so far during several previous rounds.

“It felt like a long time coming, I felt like I had a lot of occasions where I needed one more lap or no track limits like in Bahrain or one small thing to get the win. So, it was nice that it finally came in Spa, it’s a nice track to get it at as well. Although I didn’t manage to win a Feature Race, which was a bit disappointing, I’m happy that I actually stood on the top step.”

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A Red Flag-hampered Qualifying in Zandvoort left him on the backfoot and despite his best efforts, he was unable to add to his points tally. Sitting fourth in the Standings, 21 points adrift of Martins, the season finale at Monza had set the stage for an exhilarating seven-way title decider.

While several of his rivals floundered, Bearman came back fighting with back-to-back second places and staunchly refused to let the battle to be crowned the 2022 champion get to him. When the dust settled on that September Sunday morning, it wasn’t to be for the PREMA driver. However, his efforts had helped return the Teams’ Championship trophy to their base in Italy.

“Obviously it was a tense weekend. I knew I had an outside shot at the title so I wasn't trying to think too much about it and just do what I could. Qualifying was difficult, obviously in Monza it's never easy. The traffic was quite bad, and I just had to get my lap together. I managed to get in the top six, which was really the goal because in Monza, as long as you're up there within the top ten you can fight.

Bearman made up five places in the Monza Sprint Race to finish only 0.432s behind eventual winner Franco Colapinto
Bearman made up five places in the Monza Sprint Race to finish only 0.432s behind eventual winner Franco Colapinto

“In Race 1, I just went for it. I knew I had to take some risk to be up-there for the final race and to be in with a shot. So, I did that, and it paid off. I had really good pace as well, so that helped. In the final race, I was really an outside contender even after the podium in the Sprint, but I tried not to think too much about it.

“I wasn't really under pressure from that, I felt that the others were under a lot more pressure than me. I did what I could, unfortunately it wasn't enough, but it was a cool feeling to race through the pack and probably be the fastest on track. I was disappointed at the end, but it wasn't because of the results in Monza that I didn't win the Championship - it was Imola, the track limits in Bahrain and the mistakes I made at other points in the season, so I was disappointed but in myself.”

READ MORE: Bruno Michel’s Debrief: A season finale like no other!

Mistakes are an inevitable part of the growing process for any young driver, but it is what you take out of them that becomes critical. While his joyful presence hasn’t changed, he’s the first to recognise that he’s not the same driver or person he was a year ago.

“In the F4 paddock everyone was around my age, but then when you move up to F3, everyone looks like adults. I had to mature a little bit. Also, the team are super professional, so you always need to be switched on and working at that level. For sure, it made me grow as a person. In the car I feel like I make better decisions now and balance the risk and reward better than I did at the start of the season.”

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Now with the off-season in full swing, Bearman’s thoughts have already begun to focus on 2023. Keen to take full advantage of all the hard lessons he’s learnt throughout his maiden campaign, he’s well prepared to continue developing and shaping himself into one to watch in the future.

“I think at the start of this season I was trying to do a bit too much, banging in the solid performances at the start of the year is super important and to avoid any points losses. The more laps you do driving a car the better you get. Qualifying performances at the start of the year were a bit up-and-down, so I’ll be looking to have a bit more consistency.

“You see that in F3 and in F2, the driver who scores in all the races is eventually the one who wins. You can’t win a Championship with DNFs or by scoring no points in races, so that’s what I’ll be looking to improve next year.”