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How F1's super subs have set a new standard

Liam Lawson and Oliver Bearman both performed admirably when called upon by their respective teams to fill in and carry out Formula 1 driving duties in a Grand Prix environment.

Bearman Saudi
To news overview © XPBimages

The praise thrown Oliver Bearman’s way following his F1 debut at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was richly deserved.

Navigating one of the sport’s most challenging tracks and performing for arguably the sport’s most scrutinised team, Bearman’s display was exemplary.

The 18-year-old is the second F1 hopeful in the last year to showcase his talent when the opportunity presented itself.

Liam Lawson was forced to step into an AlphaTauri at the Dutch Grand Prix last year when Daniel Ricciardo suffered a wrist injury following an FP2 crash at Zandvoort.

The on-track product from the New Zealander was impressive and a 2025 drive with RB is now viewed as almost a sure thing.

In both cases, Lawson and Bearman seized their chance and set a new standard for those carrying out the reserve role.

The debuts

There is so much more that goes into the role of a reserve driver than simply waiting for an unlikely phone call.

Simulator work at the factory to aid car development and helping the set up of the challenger during a race weekend are just part of the activities they conduct.

They are also often present in engineering briefings, taking in all the information should they be required to substitute for a full-time driver.

Nothing, however, compares to jumping into a race seat, with the best way to prepare for both situations being track time with the car.

Both Lawson and Bearman had just a single practice session to get up to speed ahead of their maiden qualifying and grand prix outings.

Despite ending his first qualifying session at the back of the grid, Lawson did a superb job of keeping the car out of the barrier and gravel traps given the wet conditions that prevailed. It was a similar situation in the race as he overcame the tricky situation of rain pelting the track on the opening lap, as well as a huge shower that resulted in a red flag.

Bearman, too, had just one session to become acclimatised to the Ferrari around a Jeddah track that is notorious for punishing the smallest mistake, although the Briton had already shown his prowess by claiming pole position for the F2 feature race.

Nevertheless, an F1 car is a major step in every measurable quantity, and Bearman handled the adjustment brilliantly as he barely put a wheel out of place en route to finishing seventh in the SF24.

Switching the conversation

Putting their names on the map has been the reward for their efforts. Both are now viewed as being the first in line to receive a full-time promotion to F1, and it is a direct result of their high-quality performances in a race environment.

Lawson’s five-race stretch with AlphaTauri last year peaked with a ninth-place finish in Singapore. It led to Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko declaring that “by 2025 at the latest, he will be in a Formula 1 car” after he missed out on a drive for this season.

Bearman was already considered a future F1 prospect before his debut but since Jeddah, the conversation has swapped to “when” rather than “if” he will be on the grid.

The duo have shown the value of a reserve driver position and the opportunities it can present young hopefuls who are looking to use every tool available to be signed to an F1 contract.

It was very much a sink-or-swim situation for the pair but they coped admirably against the current to come out the other side with a boosted reputation.

With such limited seats available on the grid, opportunities to prove oneself are extremely hard to come by.

			© Red Bull Content Pool
	© Red Bull Content Pool

The new bar

What may not favour any future substitutes is the standard that has been set by Lawson and Bearman.

By jumping into the race seat and delivering - or perhaps exceeding - on expectations, they have increased the pressure on the others sitting on the bench waiting to be handed a chance to thrive.

It would be easy to draw a comparison between Bearman and another current F2 driver who gets the chance for a one-off appearance and base judgements on how they both fared on their debut.

Is it the fairest way to determine potential? Definitely not, but F1 memories are short and there is always another young prospect waiting for their turn should a substitute initially fail to impress.

Not only have Bearman and Lawson proven the future is bright for F1, but they have ensured there is a strict bar to pass to be deemed worthy.

Any other suitable candidates? Step right up, if you feel you have what it takes.

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