Saudi Arabian Grand Prix conclusions: Bearman’s next move, Ricciardo’s decline and more

Oliver Harden
Oliver Bearman smiles while speaking to the media at the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Oliver Bearman became the youngest-ever driver to race for Scuderia Ferrari in Jeddah

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen secured his second successive victory at the start of the F1 2024 season at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was joined on the podium by Sergio Perez, who completed another Red Bull one-two finish, and Charles Leclerc, whose teenage team-mate Oliver Bearman stole the show by finishing seventh on debut. Here are our conclusions from Jeddah…

Conclusions from the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Oliver Bearman’s self-critical nature will take him far

The mark of the most gifted young drivers?

Not talent or natural speed, but attitude. Always look for the attitude.

F1 has been fortunate to welcome a swarm of youngsters with the right stuff over recent years, none admiring what they have done so far but instead looking at what they can do better for the future.

Take for instance Charles Leclerc, whose caning of himself over team radio became a theme of his breakthrough season with Ferrari in 2019.

See also Lando Norris, whose natural pessimism keeps him permanently on edge, as well as his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri, who spoke openly of his struggles with tyre management during his debut season in 2023.

Even Verstappen, among the most talented drivers in history, has made every move in his 26 years on this planet with the aim of becoming the best racing driver he can possibly be. Dominance of the kind he is currently achieving does not happen by chance.

The moment a young driver believes they have made it, that there is no area left to improve, they are on the road to nowhere. recommends

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Can it be a coincidence that Lance Stroll – with nobody to hold him accountable at Aston Martin, where his father owns the team – hasn’t developed in the way he might have done since arriving in F1 in 2017?

And feels empowered to speak disrespectfully to his race engineer straight after stuffing his car into the wall after just five laps of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix?

To the list of humble, highly self-critical drivers to have arrived in this sport recently add the name of Oliver Bearman, who seemed to find a different area to work on at almost every turn of his F1 debut with Ferrari.

It is hard to think of a more daunting task than a driver making his debut with Ferrari, the sport’s most sacred team, at a circuit as unforgiving as Jeddah, the closest thing F1 has to a superspeedway oval in the US, where speeds get unnervingly high and peril lurks around every single corner.

Yet despite the short-notice circumstances of his cameo appearance Bearman – like all of those outstanding talents to have come before him (and helped along the way by Ferrari, who managed a potentially unfavourable situation to perfection) – took to it as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Scoring points for seventh place and winning the Driver of the Day award was one thing, but the most instructive snapshot from his weekend came at the close of Q2, when he came within 0.036 seconds of pulling off the irresistible irony of knocking Lewis Hamilton – Ferrari’s big-money signing for 2025, if you haven’t heard – out of qualifying.

After apologising to Ferrari, Bearman went on to tell all who would listen he was, if anything, “a bit disappointed with everything.

“At the moment, not so proud [of myself],” he added. “The racer in me knows the car was quick enough to be in Q3.”

That outlook – no doubt drilled into him by his father David, who lived every single lap from the Ferrari garage – will take him far.

Bearman: The boyish face of a smarter, Steiner-less Haas?

After the dramas with Nikita Mazepin and the disappointments with Mick Schumacher, Guenther Steiner was quite clear.

“I’m done with rookies,” F1’s star of stage, screen and bookshelf said in October 2022 as it became obvious Schumacher would be dropped by Haas at the end of that season.

Young drivers? Too much work for too little reward. Too inconsistent. Too many mistakes.

And too bloody expensive when they foksmash the car into a million pieces and leave him having to explain all over the phone to Gene.

All Guenther wanted was an easy life with two grizzled old pros, so two grizzled old pros – in Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg – was what he got.

Most of the ire for Schumacher’s short-lived F1 career was targeted at Steiner, but the fault really lay at Ferrari for pairing them together in the first place.

Anyone at Maranello with a Netflix subscription would have known what he was like, that emotional intelligence was not Steiner’s strong point, and therefore could have guessed that exposing young Schumacher – cruelly denied his father by his side during those critical early steps of his career – to that environment would not end well.

Sending Mick to Haas, when Fred Vasseur could have done with Michael’s boy what he did with a young Leclerc at Sauber in 2018, made for one of the great missed opportunities of modern F1.

Haas was no place for a young driver during the Steiner era – but now? Now things are different.

Replacing Steiner with Ayao Komatsu over the winter was a clear move to bring Haas into the modern world, following the 2023 template of McLaren (Andrea Stella) and Williams (James Vowles) by appointing an experienced and respected engineer to the role of team principal.

It was a choice of substance over style, moving away from the cult of Steiner’s personality and towards a more sophisticated, engineering-led way of working.

If the impact is already evident in the VF-24 car – which seems to have largely eradicated its predecessor’s propensity to toast its tyres – it should also be reflected in a marked shift in the team’s driver recruitment and put Haas back on the market for outstanding youngsters.

In a sport in which first impressions count and a single impressive weekend can suddenly propel a driver into the centre of silly season, Bearman’s Ferrari cameo will ensure he enters the race for a promotion to a permanent F1 seat in 2025, if not before.

And with Sauber slowly falling into the grip of Audi, the responsibility falls on the shoulders of Haas – soon to be the only Ferrari customer team on the grid – to make it happen.

Nothing would confirm a clear break from the Steiner era quite like making Bearman the face of the new-look Haas.

Bearman’s cameo should convince Mercedes to commit to the great Antonelli gamble

How do they do it, these boy wonders?

How are they so cool? So poised? So instantly quick in the era of limited testing?

For a clue to the answer, let’s refer to the words of Pedro de la Rosa – the former McLaren and Ferrari tester, now an Aston Martin ambassador – on F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast in 2020.

“I’m of the opinion that all the new generations – in any sport – are better than the old ones,” he said.

“I know this sounds quite crude or surprising, but it’s true because all the new sportsmen start from an earlier age. I think this is critical.

“They are always confronted at an earlier age against better drivers than the average I was facing.

“New generations will always be stronger and more complete.”

Going by De La Rosa’s logic, then, Senna was more complete than Prost; Schumacher was more complete than Ayrton; Alonso was more complete than Michael; Hamilton was more complete than Fernando; and Verstappen – with due apologies to Team LH – is more complete than Lewis.

So what on earth – gulp – will come after Max?

Ever since Hamilton’s move to Ferrari was announced last month, talk has been rife that Andrea Kimi Antonelli – Bearman’s Prema F2 team-mate – is Mercedes’ preferred choice to succeed him, with the team regarding the teenager as their version of Verstappen.

Indeed, there has been speculation over recent weeks that Hamilton’s departure was effectively triggered by him feeling unloved by the offer of what proved to be a one-plus-one contract last year as Mercedes had one eye on the future with Antonelli at its heart.

The dream scenario for 2025 it may be, yet aren’t Mercedes and Toto Wolff too safe – too instinctively cautious – to make it happen?

Mercedes, after all, kept George Russell waiting around at Williams for three whole years before finally promoting him as Hamilton’s team-mate in 2022, only after his F1 apprenticeship had been served in full.

And how guilty Toto would feel if he threw Antonelli in at the deep end only to watch him drown, destroying any hope of a successful career before he even hit the age of 20.

No, surely the sensible – the Mercedes – thing to do would be to place Antonelli at Williams for a year or two, shield him from comparisons with Hamilton and only promote him when absolutely certain that he could cope.

Or, at least, it was the sensible thing to do before this weekend.

The ease with which Bearman slotted into the Ferrari will, you suspect, only convince Wolff that Mercedes have a driver waiting to make exactly the same impression and who only requires the opportunity.

It was impossible, then, to read Wolff’s praise of Bearman’s performance in Jeddah without wondering how it could influence Mercedes’ thinking for 2025.

“You see the younger kids that come in, the level of performance is very high,” he told Sky F1.

“It’s getting so competitive starting from go-karting and the junior formulas and you can take a kid out of F2 and into a Ferrari without any [previous] session and it’s competitive.

“Very impressive to see and very encouraging for the next generation.”

Make no mistake: the great Antonelli gamble is on.

The old Daniel Ricciardo ain’t ever coming back

For a driver who supposedly started 2024 as a dead man walking – aged 34, in the final year of his contract and with a disorderly queue forming to steal his seat – Sergio Perez’s start to the season has been very encouraging.

Qualifying never has and never will be his strong point, but in every other respect Perez is doing everything Red Bull can ask of him right now – banking the points, acting as the perfect wingman to Verstappen and being right there to step up just in case Max runs into trouble.

He may still talk of targeting the title, but deep down has he finally made peace with the fact that the World Championship will never come his way as long as Verstappen is his team-mate?

A strong start to the season is nothing new for Perez at Red Bull, of course, and the evidence of the last couple of years suggests this still has the potential to go very wrong very quickly.

If the traditional mid-season slump does happen and Red Bull are tempted to start looking elsewhere after all, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that Daniel Ricciardo is in no fit state to step up as his replacement.

For all the pre-season optimism about the increased technical partnership with the senior team – and the prospect of a couple of early season podiums propelling Ricciardo a Red Bull return – not much appears to have changed at RB over the winter beyond the name.

The car remains only a fringe contender for points at best and Ricciardo continues to lag – sometimes by quite some margin – behind Yuki Tsunoda, following the trend of late 2023.

And if he can’t even handle Tsunoda these days, what chance would he have of living with Max?

Only a twist of strategic fate ensured he finished ahead of Tsunoda in Bahrain and, six days later, Yuki stuck it to him – going half a second faster in Q2 in Jeddah to underline his inherent and eye-opening pace advantage.

The most disturbing part of Ricciardo’s weekend, though?

That came in the closing laps when he spun all on his own at the first corner.

It was a cry for help, reminiscent of the random party-trick spins Sebastian Vettel, his former Red Bull team-mate, would throw in mid-race during those undignified final years of his career, each one hitting home just that little bit more that his powers had deserted him for good.

Far from being the answer to Red Bull’s Perez problem, Ricciardo now has the air of the classic F1 journeyman – merely making up the numbers and blocking a seat that could be put to better use by Liam Lawson, another of those young drivers touched by magic.

The Daniel of old? He’s gone. And on this evidence, he ain’t ever coming back.

A Red Bull return is a rapidly dying dream.

F1 drivers and appendicitis: Just a coincidence?

The exploits of Bearman, of course, were only possible after Carlos Sainz was ruled out through illness on Friday morning.

It made Sainz the second driver to go down with appendicitis in the last 18 months after Alex Albon was forced to miss the 2022 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, with both cases occurring since F1 reintroduced ground effect cars two years ago.

A mere coincidence? Or could it be related to the fact that the bodies of drivers are routinely battered by the current cars?

The first sign that all was not well with Sainz came when he missed his media duties on Wednesday.

This was also the day it emerged that Verstappen, with considerable influence as the reigning World Champion, and Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, had approached the FIA over health concerns related to the ground effect cars.

Although ‘porpoising’ was the great F1 buzzword of 2022 – when Hamilton was caught clutching his back after a particularly bouncy race in Baku and Pierre Gasly warned some drivers would require a walking stick by the age of 30 if it was left unaddressed – the phenomenon has been largely eradicated, give or take the occasional minor complaint, after steps were taken to improve the situation.

Yet still it remains in the realm of “unsustainable” according to Russell, who complained ahead of the Jeddah weekend that “every single tiny bump goes all through your body” with these cars, by their very nature, running so close to the ground.

You can often hear it on the onboards at the highest speeds on the longest straights – that rattling noise as the bottom of the car scrapes against the surface of the track at full load.

It makes for a spectacular sight when a shower of sparks is sent soaring into the ether, but at what cost to the health of the drivers?

It should be stressed that there is no proven link between the appendix problems suffered by Albon and Sainz and the current cars.

After two drivers were struck down by an identical health complaint in rather quick succession, however, it is a theory worthy of further exploration – and ideally before F1’s new rules for 2026 are formally ratified later this year.

Read next: ‘A star is born!’ – Oliver Bearman seriously impresses in surprise Ferrari debut at Saudi Arabian GP