Oliver Bearman wasted no time getting up to speed on his first visit to Baku, topping the opening session of the Formula 2 weekend and ending Free Practice fastest of all. The PREMA Racing driver went quickest late on, gaining a nice slipstream down the main straight to set a 1:54.063.
Fellow rookies Isack Hadjar and Kush Maini followed in second and third places respectively. A spin for Arthur Leclerc late on brought an early end to practice as the DAMS driver couldn’t get going again.
The early laps were tricky with the freshly resurfaced circuit offering little grip. Ralph Boschung was the first driver underneath the two-minute barrier, but times continued to fall with every lap on the board as the surface continued to clean up.
With a nice tow down the main straight from Zane Maloney ahead, Boschung lowered the time to beat to a 1:57.225 with half an hour left to run. Hadjar was next to P1, setting a 1:56.553 to make a fast start to Free Practice in the Hitech Pulse-Eight #10.
The sun emerged heading into the second half of the session and the times fell further still. Frederik Vesti posted a 1:55.827 to assume the top spot in his PREMA Racing car. Jack Doohan slotted into second just 0.050s down on that effort and Campos Racing’s Maini third, a tenth back on the best effort.
Hadjar’s strong start in Baku continued as he improved onto a 1:54.882 for the best time with just over 20 minutes remaining. Maloney was the first to have to pull off a three-point turn down the narrow run-off area at Turn 3. Fresh out of the pits on cold tyres, he skated straight on but kept it out of the barriers and continued on his way.
Into the final 10 minutes, Bearman was the next rookie to go fastest. His 1:54.457 was a few hundredths quicker than teammate Vesti, who slotted into second behind. The Briton was pushing hard, narrowly avoiding disaster after a brush with the wall on the exit of Turn 15.
With three minutes to go, Hadjar restored himself to the top of the pile but only momentarily. Bearman picked up a perfect tow from MP Motorsport’s Jehan Daruvala out of the final corner to help him on the way to a 1:54.063, two-tenths clear of anybody. Maini popped up to third late on for Campos, making it a rookie 1-2-3 ahead of Qualifying around the Baku City Circuit.
With just over one minute left, Arthur Leclerc spun in his DAMS out of the first corner, bringing out the Red Flags and ending the session early.
Qualifying is set to commence at 15:00 local time.