Jules Bianchi has taken an early lead in this year's GP2 championship with a storming drive to pole position in qualifying for the season-opener in Barcelona, claiming top spot ahead of Sergio Perez and morning pacesetter Sam Bird.

The Frenchman stunned his rivals with a lap of 1min 27.727secs in warm, sunny conditions to enjoy a three-tenth advantage over Perez and sit a full half-second in front of ART Grand Prix team-mate Bird.

"I feel really good," the Frenchman admitted, "This morning was a bit difficult for me because I had a little crash [with Perez] in the first lap, so we did less laps than the others, but after that I had some good laps to feel the car and feel everything and to see how we were, and I think we were not bad this morning. But I had to improve because my team-mate was really consistent this morning, he had the fastest lap and there were some corners where he was really good.

"We worked a lot with my engineer to improve the car and also my driving, and I did a really good lap. I think it was a really good opportunity that we were in the front because the track was better in the first half of the qualifying, because after, with the second set, nobody improved. I think we did a really good qualifying, and it's really good for me to be in pole position in my first race in GP2.

"But I know that tomorrow there is a race, and this is the most important thing because we took some points today but, tomorrow, the main thing is to score some more points, and I think it will be difficult because there are some good drivers behind."

The session opened to warmer temperatures than the morning's free practice, with Racing Engineering's Christian Vietoris leading the way on the first lap before Bianchi asserted his authority and set the target for his rivals. Bird, Perez and Arden's Charles Pic opened a five-way fight for the top spot early in the session and, when Bianchi broke the 27-second barrier a third of the way through, the fight was on.

The field headed back to the pits at half-time for fresh tyres and a rethink, everyone casting around for a new advantage on the only testing circuit of the race season but, with the track so well known, it was going to take an almighty effort to knock the Frenchman off his perch in the closing stages of qualifying.

With minutes remaining Bird pushed hard to repeat his morning's result, but lost time in the final sector and was two-tenths off, with Bianchi pushing to cover but actually running slower. When Perez's first sector time went purple, it looked as though the Mexican was going to break through, but instead he came into the pits without crossing the line, clearly unhappy with something.

"We saw where we did a very good sector but then we found some traffic, and we knew that the track was slower so we came in to save the tyres, so that we have them for tomorrow and can see where we are," Perez revealed.

Bird, meanwhile, reckoned that he had been trying too hard to emulate his morning performance.

"I think, in free practice, I just put it together a little bit better but, that that, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do the same thing, and I think I overdrove a little bit," the Briton conceded, "That's a lesson learned for me today, not to do that again. I think some of my braking points were a bit poor in qualifying compared to this morning, so if I can sort that out I should be back on good speed tomorrow."

When Bianchi spun to a stop at the chicane in the final sector there was no chance of anyone else improving, putting the rookie at the front of the grid for tomorrow afternoon's opening race.

Slotting in behind the top three will be Vietoris, Oliver Turvey, Pic, Dani Clos and Marcus Ericsson, with no fewer than six rookies in the top eight. Veteran Pastor Maldonado and GP2 Asia Series champion Davide Valsecchi round out the top ten, while other expected frontrunners such as Giacomo Ricci, Giedo van der Garde and Jerome d'Ambrosio languish further down the field.

"In the first laps of the qualifying session, the grip was definitely higher," Valsecchi explained, "Then the track became more and more slippery, and improving my tenth spot has been almost impossible. It hasn't been a great day, but I hope to improve my position on race one. It'll be pretty long and we'll be able to profit from our lap consistency."

van der Garde's afternoon only got worse, however, when he was handed a three-position penalty for race one after being judged to have impeded d'Ambrosio during the qualifying session. Both drivers were called in front of the stewards to discuss the on-track incident before the decision was taken, and van der Garde subsequently moves from 13th on the grid to 16th, pushing his Belgian rival up one spot to 15th.