Oliver Bearman took a millimetre-perfect pole position in Barcelona as he pushed the limits to qualify as the fastest driver for the second time in the 2023 FIA Formula 2 Championship.
Bearman survived suggestions from rival team Carlin that he had exceeded track limits to keep his time and take another pole position. Slow-motion replays showed the British Driver kept just a fraction of his inside tyre on the track as he went quickest by less than a tenth of a second.
Always pushing the limits, the F2 rookie never makes it boring. His first pole position in the series came in Baku while fighting against a bent steering column caused by a scrape with Azerbaijan’s barriers.
The PREMA driver and his team mate Frederik Vesti opted to run ‘in the gap’ to avoid traffic during Qualifying and showed early signs of pace as he went fourth midway through the session.
As the track rubbered in and most drivers improved, the pressure was on to deliver a final quick time. The British driver saved his best until last and jumped ahead of his rivals to take a bonus two Championship points ahead of Enzo Fittipaldi and Jack Doohan.
Victor Martins was first out to set a representative lap time, after the drivers completed an out lap and then a warm-up lap to get some temperature into their Pirelli tyres.
He was very quickly shuffled down the order as the other drivers lit up the timing screens with a flurry of activity, leaving the Frenchman down in P17 after the first set of runs.
Enzo Fittipaldi, Dennis Hauger, Kush Maini and Jehan Daruvala briefly made an early top 4, separated by less than three-hundredths of a second: an early indication of how competitive the session would be.
During that early action, neither PREMA car was anywhere to be seen, as the Italian team opted to stay in the pits and wait to run in the gap between most drivers’ first and second quick runs to avoid getting held up in traffic.
Championship leader Vesti was only seventh after his first run, while Bearman went fourth. Meanwhile, the MP Motorsport cars ditched their first set of tyres and were quickly back out on track to set some more quick laps.
Dennis Hauger went to the top of the timesheet, while Jehan Daruvala climbed to third. That lap was to be Hauger’s last attempt at a time, as he was held up by Théo Pourchaire at Turn 3, halting his progress and likely earning Pourchaire a penalty.
It was then MP Motorsport’s turn to sit and wait in the pits having used both sets of soft tyres. The Dutch team were looking for another strong result in Barcelona after winning both Sprint and Feature Races with Felipe Drugovich last year but would end the session in sixth and fifteenth place.
On the final round of quick laps, Kush Maini went third – an early indication that the track was getting faster as the cars put more rubber into the asphalt.
Pourchaire then went quickest, before being usurped by Enzo Fittipaldi and then by his Championship rival Iwasa.
Vesti and Bearman were next to make a final bid for pole position, and once again it was the younger driver who looked the quicker of the pair. Vesti would only finish in P8, while his team mate took pole by less than a tenth of a second.
Doohan made a final attempt to keep his pole from last year, but slid his Invicta Virtuosi car through the final sector as the tyres screamed for mercy, costing him what was looking like a pole-worthy lap until that point.
As the final car crossed the line and the session looked to be over, the calm was broken by Carlin’s radio message to Enzo Fittipaldi telling the Brazilian they thought Bearman went beyond the track limits on his quickest lap.
But with no signs of a stewards’ investigation, the Ferrari Academy driver held onto his pole position, and roared into the radio in celebration, breaking it in the process.
He will start the Sprint Race from tenth place while an impressive performance from Amaury Cordeel sees the Belgian line up for Saturday’s race on reverse grid pole position.
By Laurence Griffin and Sub-Edit Jim Kimberley
Image: Formula Motorsport Limited