Sam Bird has started his season with a shot across the bows of his rivals by putting himself at the top of the timesheets in the season-opening free practice session in Barcelona,
The Briton finished narrowly ahead of Charles Pic and Sergio Perez as he claimed top spot with a time of 1min 28.511secs, the top three split by just three tenths as the drivers went out in anger for the first time this year under sunny but cool conditions.
The session opened with a bang as Bird's ART team-mate Jules Bianchi followed the rear wing of Perez a little too closely on their warm up lap. The Mexican spun gently into the gravel, but found his way back to the pits just behind his French rival while, a few turns later, Jerome d'Ambrosio found the wall at turn nine, bringing his session to an early end.
Back on track, Bird set the early running with a lap of 1min 28.511secs and continued to push as Perez and Bianchi sat just below him on the screens. The Briton went even faster just before the usual rush for fresh rubber just before the halfway mark of the season, with Pic staying out a lap longer to get some clear air and his best time.
With the teams concentrating on set-up ahead of this afternoon's qualifying session, the timesheets saw little movement as the clock wound down to zero. Bianchi, Oliver Turvey, Dani Clos, Davide Valsecchi, and Giacomo Ricci slotted in right behind the top three, with one second covering the first eleven drivers, the first five of whom are
rookies. Another newcomer, Josef Kral, was ninth fastest, ahead of Ho-Pin Tung, but other, more seasoned heads, appeared to struggle, with Giedo van der Garde, Adrian Zaugg and Pastor Maldonado 17th through 19th.