The British duo banking on Prema for big results in 2023

Zak O’Sullivan and Ollie Bearman had very different rookie Formula 3 seasons in 2022.

The British pair both entered their maiden campaigns as reigning champions – O’Sullivan of GB3 and Bearman of both Italian and German F4. And while O’Sullivan stayed with Carlin for his step up, Bearman, as a new recruit to the Ferrari Driver Academy, headed straight for the top with junior series powerhouse Prema.

Look behind the differing results, and it’s clear both put in seriously impressive seasons. O’Sullivan produced Farnham-based Carlin’s best drivers’ standings result – 11th – of the modern F3 era; Bearman clinched third in the points after a chaotic, controversial season finale at Monza he had entered as a title contender.

This year, the duo both line up at Prema Racing, with O’Sullivan joining the Italian squad for a second shot at F3 and Bearman graduating to Formula 2. Both championships kick off in Bahrain this weekend.

Williams Academy driver O’Sullivan will be one of the most watched drivers in F3 this year, and shoulders high expectations after stepping up to such a prestigious seat. For all Carlin’s massive success in the previous iteration of F3, it has struggled in the category since it was revamped for 2019. Even so, he managed to clinch two podiums in his rookie season.

The 2021 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year had expected a “tricky year” in 2022 given the team’s struggles, but said he “still learned a lot” despite its under-performance. The 18-year-old believes the team did improve throughout the season, but not as much as it had hoped, and he was unable to replicate his GB3 success with the team from 2021.

Williams junior O’Sullivan is hoping to kick on after a mixed first season with Carlin

Photo by: Prema Powerteam

“It was my first year not really fighting for a championship, so a bit of a different focus point which took a while to get used to,” he relates. “I think it was a good year, I learned a lot, but obviously, not the results we probably wanted.” This year, though, will be different, with his move to a top team seen as a “natural step up”.

O’Sullivan’s experience could mean that he’s viewed as the natural leader alongside Ferrari protege Dino Beganovic and Mercedes junior Paul Aron, who graduate from the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine in which they finished first and third respectively last year. Prema is bidding to recapture the drivers’ title after missing out to ART Grand Prix’s Victor Martins in 2022. Bearman was its highest-placed pilot as it reclaimed the teams’ championship from Trident for its third win in four years.

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O’Sullivan says the trio are already “working together trying to improve as much as we can as a team,” with Beganovic and Aron accustomed to working together after being team-mates in FRECA for the past two years, while O’Sullivan and Aron both drove for the Ricky Flynn Motorsport karting team in 2018. Key to O’Sullivan’s campaign will be the race management skills he learned last season.

“I’m not nervous. I mean, it’s like any other season. I treat every season the same. Take it one day at a time, one test at a time, and we’ll see where we end up” Zak O’Sullivan

“The Pirelli tyre is always quite a tricky beast to manage in the race,” he reckons. “Of course, a year under my belt helps with a bit of experience in that aspect. I think in general as well, maximising points in the sprint or feature race depending on how qualifying goes is quite critical. So yeah, I think a year of that for sure will put me in good stead.”

The most important lesson he learned in his rookie season, he says, was patience: “Obviously my first two years in single-seaters had been relatively successful [before his GB3 title, he was British F4 runner-up in 2020], and quite early on I was always on the pace. Last year was not so much the case, so I think I learnt to be patient. Not everything comes overnight, and it’s something for sure I’ll be taking into this season.”

O’Sullivan, ever a calm and collected presence despite his young age, is coy about his expectations for such a key season.

“Obviously it’d be nice to be at the front from round one,” he suggests, “but it’s not a disaster if we’re not. It’s a long championship with lots of points available, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Despite his reluctance to big up his title chances, O’Sullivan says he is feeling confident: “I’m not nervous. I mean, it’s like any other season. I treat every season the same. Take it one day at a time, one test at a time, and we’ll see where we end up.”

O’Sullivan is confident of his prospects having learned to understand the foibles of the Pirelli

Photo by: Prema Powerteam

Prema boss Rene Rosin has long been impressed by O’Sullivan, whose management had contacted the team ahead of the 2022 season. Once the contest came to its dramatic conclusion at Monza and it became clear that Bearman would graduate to F2, O’Sullivan’s people took another chance and, says Rosin, “very easily” reached an agreement for the 2023 campaign.

“He’s always been competitive and he always gave good feedback to the engineers, so this was very important,” Rosin says after the recent pre-season test in Bahrain. “Now of course we need to have time with him to analyse the plus and minus of everything and just to be ready for the first round.

“The goal is to be ready for the quali. Being P1 in free practice, honestly I don’t care, it doesn’t matter to me because it’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for building up confidence and momentum from the quali onwards. We have done a lot of stuff, a lot of testing, and we have been pretty satisfied with how everything went.” 

Should O’Sullivan put in an impressive enough performance this season, he is likely to follow in 17-year-old Bearman’s footsteps in 2024. The giant step up from F4 to FIA F3 is a notoriously tough one, yet he had a stunning rookie season. Bearman scored only one win – and that was in a reversed-grid race at Spa – but there were five podiums across the nine feature races, a feat matched by no one, not even Martins. He also outscored his more experienced team-mates, Ferrari stablemate Arthur Leclerc and Red Bull Junior Jak Crawford, who were sixth and seventh respectively in the points.

Despite spending just one year in F3, Bearman reports that “we didn’t see the benefit of doing another year. During the summer break, it was pretty much planned to race in F3 again with Prema. We had a really strong last three rounds, or two let’s say because Zandvoort was a bit of a mess, but scored a lot of points. At that stage, my position in the championship I would say warranted a move to F2. But for me, it wasn’t on my mind, I was just focusing on the driving.

“Once I finished, I looked back and thought, yeah, I did a good job, but I was still expecting to do F3 again, considering my age and everything. But I’m glad that we took the decision to take F2. I feel like it’s a better step in my learning journey.”

Rosin also judged that Bearman was ready, and said after the events of Monza that there was “nothing else to do for him but move up. If the race [at Monza] would have finished its laps, I can try to bet that he would have won the championship because he was going to pass [Zane] Maloney, and passing Maloney would have been the championship move.

Bearman made a strong impression in F3 last year and decided he had little to gain from staying on another year to try and seal the title

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“As it was, the championship finished as it finished; Ollie was behind Victor and Zane, but he’s done a very good in his first season. After a season like that where you fight to the last laps to be champion, it was the right step to move up. So I’m really excited, because he’s a rookie but I’m sure that together we can do a good job.”

Bearman feels he has “grown up massively as a person” in the past year, pointing to the step in professionalism between F4 and F3. His work with Ferrari has also intensified, becoming more integrated with the F1 team. The entire top seven from last year’s F3 standings – Martins, Maloney, Bearman, Isack Hadjar, Roman Stanek, Leclerc and Crawford – are graduating to F2 this season, and the field also includes Alfa Romeo F1 reserve driver and 2022 runner-up Theo Pourchaire and Alpine reserve Jack Doohan. It’s going to be tough.

“My goal is just to keep improving,” admits Bearman. “It’s a fairly simple goal, but it’s an effective one I took last year in F3 and it worked out quite well. I just want to look back on the weekend and have improved from the previous weekend. Also not to make the same mistake twice, which although I made a few too many mistakes in F3 last year, especially with the start, it’s something that I did well – I didn’t make the same mistake again.

“My greatest challenge is to show what Prema is capable of doing, and I think with Fred [Vesti] and Ollie [Bearman] we can do it. Nothing against Dennis and Jehan, but I’m really looking forward to Bahrain” Rene Rosin

“I haven’t really set any expectations, I think we need to see where we stand after the first couple of rounds. Jeddah and Melbourne are question marks, having not driven either before, so I’ll wait until the European rounds and see where we really stand.”

Bearman has already tackled two rounds of testing in the F2 car, at Yas Marina and in Bahrain, and says that although it’s “tough to gauge” his performance against his rivals, he completed his run programme across the three days in Bahrain and “made a step in all areas”.

“Of course, we’re trying things to find as much as we can, but that’s how every test goes,” he says. “On that side it was a good test. On my side the tyre management was something that was more difficult to get up to speed with, especially on a high degradation track like Bahrain. So that was one of the areas of focus that we highlighted, but that’s what we’ll be aiming for, I guess.”

Bearman will line up alongside Frederik Vesti in 2023 as part of an all-new F2 line-up for Prema. Mercedes junior Vesti finished ninth last year with ART, but returns to the team with which he claimed the Formula Regional title in 2019 and won races in F3 in 2020. His F2 experience has already proved beneficial to Bearman, and the pair will be looking to return Prema to the top of the standings. The squad had a tough time in F2 in 2022, but did the double in 2020 and 2021, scoring teams’ titles and drivers’ crowns with Mick Schumacher and Oscar Piastri respectively.

Prema lost its grip on the F2 title last year with MP-bound pair Hauger and Daruvala – now Rosin and Bearman are determined to return it to Italy

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The pair replace Dennis Hauger and Jehan Daruvala, who have both moved to MP Motorsport, the team that won the crown with Felipe Drugovich last season. Although Prema underperformed compared to its usual standards in 2022, Rosin reckons it was “not extremely bad,” with the pair scoring three wins between them.

“To be fair, we didn’t score the amount of points we expected,” Rosin states. “Of course, I want to bounce back. My greatest challenge is to show what Prema is capable of doing, and I think with Fred and Ollie we can do it. Nothing against Dennis and Jehan, but I’m really looking forward to Bahrain.”

Does he have high expectations for Bearman?

“It’s the same as everybody,” he adds. “We need to look race by race, try to maximise the results. I don’t want to make any comparisons, I don’t want to remember any other year where we had rookies, because in F2 it’s possible to win as a rookie. For me, Ollie is doing it in the best way possible and I’m sure the results will come.”

For both Bearman and O’Sullivan, there’s no reason why those results can’t arrive.

Rosin has every confidence that Bearman (pictured) and O’Sullivan can both thrive with the team in 2023

Photo by: Ferrari

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