Formula 1 Focus: Bearman steals the show in Saudi Arabia as Red Bull's civil war ramps up

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Formula 1 Focus: Bearman steals the show in Saudi Arabia as Red Bull's civil war ramps up

Bearman was the star of the show in Saudi Arabia
Bearman was the star of the show in Saudi ArabiaAFP
There's always plenty to talk about in the non-stop world of Formula 1 and Flashscore's Finley Crebolder gives his thoughts on the biggest stories going around the paddock in this regular column.

The fight at the front may have once again been non-existent from the start of qualifying to the end of the race, but Red Bull's off-track drama and Oliver Bearman's stunning debut ensured that it wasn't a weekend completely devoid of excitement in Jeddah.

Here are my thoughts on the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Battle of the Bulls nears breaking point

Verstappen has sided with Marko over Horner
Verstappen has sided with Marko over HornerAFP

Red Bull may be depriving Formula 1 of drama on track with their dominance but they're doing the complete opposite away from the circuit, with their civil war raging on over the weekend.

It had been widely reported prior to the sport's arrival in Saudi Arabia that Max Verstappen was firmly aligned with the Austrian side of the company in their dispute with Christian Horner and majority shareholder Chalerm Yoovidhya. We got clear confirmation of that at the weekend when the Dutchman was asked about reports that influential Austrian advisor Helmut Marko was set to be suspended.

"My loyalty to him is very big, and I have always expressed this to everyone within the team, everyone high up, that he is an important part in my decision-making for the future," he said. “It is very important that he stays. I feel like if such an important pillar falls away, and I have told the team this, that it is not good for my situation as well.”

It was an answer that spoke volumes. Verstappen had declined to publicly support Horner for weeks but fully backed Marko without hesitation, effectively telling his team in front of the world that either they both stay or they both leave, and it's a statement that could ultimately bring the saga that has been dominating the sport to an end.

Shortly after Verstappen said that Marko stated that he'd be staying put following a meeting with managing director Oliver Mintzlaff, and there's now talk that Yoovidhya will finally stop protecting Horner and allow him to be removed from the team before the next race in Australia.

Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, but I very much get the sense now that Red Bull will indeed have to relieve Horner of his duties if they want to keep Verstappen, and fast. After all, it's obvious now that the reigning champion will only stay if Marko stays, and Marko has said "things have to calm down" if he's to see out his contract.

Bearman delivers dazzling debut

Undoubtedly the story of the weekend on track was Oliver Bearman, who was called up at the last minute by Ferrari after Carlos Sainz was diagnosed with appendicitis and exceeded all reasonable expectations. 

With just one practice session under his belt, the 18-year-old only missed out on Q3 by the skin of his teeth and then made a steady start on race day to get himself into the top 10. He didn't put a foot wrong after that, showing strong pace to move up to seventh before holding off Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris in the closing stages to stay there. 

Driving your first Formula 1 race in a car you've never driven on a day's notice is daunting, but it's impossible to put into words just how daunting it is when that car happens to be a Ferrari. To not only avoid making mistakes under such pressure but to actually be quick too - the gap between himself and teammate Charles Leclerc was consistently smaller than the gap between Red Bull's Verstappen and Sergio Perez - is nothing short of incredible.

All the talk heading into the Formula 2 season was of 17-year-old sensation Kimi Antonelli, who could well replace Hamilton at Mercedes next season, but Bearman made it clear with his performance in Saudi Arabia that he's a star in the making himself, one that will no doubt be on the F1 grid sooner rather than later.

There may not be space at Ferrari until Hamilton retires, but the Italian team will do everything they can to get him a seat at another team before then in preparation for a future promotion. A move to Haas looks particularly likely given their partnership with the Scuderia - he's already tested for them, too.

We probably won't see much more of Bearman this season outside of tests and maybe a few practice sessions, but he looks all but certain to become a stalwart of the sport in years to come.

Huge step forward for Haas

If you offered Bearman the chance to drive for Haas in 2025 a few months ago, he probably wouldn't have been too excited. However, two races into the season, things are already looking up for the American team. They were expected to remain the backmarker of the grid after losing team principal Guenther Steiner and technical director Simone Resta in a chaotic winter break, but look to have made a bigger step forward than any of their nine competitors.

There were plenty of positives for Haas to take from the first race, in which Nico Hulkenberg qualified in 10th before Kevin Magnussen finished 11th. It was confirmed in Saudi Arabia that the two veteran drivers have been given a genuinely strong race car as they worked together to give the team their first point of the campaign.

Both drivers made it into Q2 without too much trouble and had the pace to get involved in the midfield battle from the off in the race. They weren't quite fast enough to fight for a spot in the top 10 initially, but a combination of others retiring and an excellent strategy, with Magnussen defending valiantly to hold up those behind him and allow Hulkenberg to pit and rejoin ahead of them, secured an invaluable tenth-place finish for the German.

What will be most encouraging for new team boss Ayao Komatsu will be the fact that Hulkenberg was able to go long on his first set of tyres given that the car's tendency to rapidly burn through rubber has been its Achilles Heel in recent years. It's an issue that has prevented either driver from converting strong pace into strong points.

With that problem seemingly solved, Haas now look to have the sixth-fastest car on the grid, and with a strong Ferrari engine and two reliable drivers, they should be able to make top-10 finishes a regular occurrence until their competitors begin to introduce significant upgrades at the very least.

Such a resurgence would have a big impact on the sport, providing Ferrari with an ideal place to put their young drivers such as Bearman - which is something that it looked like they'd be lacking with Audi taking over Sauber - and putting an end to talk of Andretti buying the team out and taking their place. 

It would also mean that Hulkenberg, undoubtedly one of the grid's fastest drivers, would finally have a car that allows him to show what he can do in races again. That could have big repercussions with a number of 2025's top seats potentially opening up in the coming months.

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