Navigating his way around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the first time, Oliver Bearman showed no signs of hesitation, getting right up to speed in the opening Free Practice session. Yet the Ferrari junior is keeping himself in check as he braces himself for a very different challenge in Qualifying.

Clocking a 1:43.501 at the 14-minute mark, he headed a PREMA Racing 1-2, 0.179s ahead of teammate Frederik Vesti. Although the session ended prematurely due to a late Red Flag, which denied several other drivers their best attempts, there’s no doubt Bearman’s enjoying every second discovering the ultra-high-speed circuit, particularly the need for accuracy.

“Of course, it was only FP, so it doesn't mean much, but I'm happy to start off in a good way for both cars. We were really happy with the car, and I think we were 1-2, so that was a good start to the weekend for sure.

“It's a mega track, it's more than I could ever expect in terms of the adrenaline rush and enjoyment. I was looking forward to getting around and I'm really happy to drive here. Looking forward to Qualifying, of course Free Practice doesn't mean anything, but I'm confident now with the with the car we have, so let's see what we can do.

“The walls - they're pretty close. I've never driven on a track like that, if you take a bit too much kerb on a race track, it's not the end of the world. If you do here, it's not the end of the world, but it's a bit closer to the end of the world. It doesn't allow for mistakes. You need to be really precise everywhere, which is also a feature of this car, so it kind of suits the track.”

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He added: “You need to make sure you're really close to the walls of course to maximise the lap time, but also in some places that are quite sharp, you have to be careful. I really enjoy driving around here and I built up the confidence lap by lap, which was the goal of the session.”

Whilst Free Practice results don’t have a material impact on the rest of the weekend’s performances, notching 15 laps around the punishing 27 turn track will be extremely valuable when Bearman looks to put the perfect flying lap together in the evening’s running.

READ MORE: PRACTICE: Bearman leads PREMA Racing 1-2 ahead of Vesti

Not only that, topping the session has given the PREMA driver a boost of confidence, allowing him to rally after an unsatisfying Round 1 in Sakhir. Recording P15 and P14 finishes on his debut, he believes his performance last time out is the exception rather than the rule.

“Round 1 was really difficult for us, we really struggled. I think there were some really strong points that we didn't manage to piece the weekend together, which was a bit unfortunate. To start off in a good way this weekend gives me a bit of confidence, which is always nice, but I believe the Bahrain was a one-off. I think we can be strong for the rest of the season and starting to prove that now, so let's keep it up.”

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The conditions that will greet the drivers in Qualifying will vary markedly from Practice, with significantly cooler temperatures and the switch from medium tyres to the grippy supersofts.

Considering the potentially 2-3 seconds of lap time to play for, Bearman isn’t underestimating task, but is eager to face it head-on.

READ MORE: Iwasa: Bouncing back with Jeddah victory the goal after Round 1 disappointment

“For Qualifying, the track's going to be about 20° colder and we also go two steps softer on the compound. We're going to find a lot of lap time there, the track's going to be a lot faster and the car's going to be a lot faster. Of course, we have a good reference from Free Practice, but we have a lot more grip so things will change.

“The grip step, it’s something that I'm used to from Bahrain and from Abu Dhabi last year, but not this much grip, so let's see how it goes. I think it will be nice to go into the supersoft compound. It's always nice to drive this car in Qualifying, so it will be fun.”