After two mainly wet days at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain, all the GP2 teams were fervently hoping for some dry conditions on Thursday, the third and final day of pre-season testing in Barcelona and the last opportunity that any of the teams will get for track time before they turn out for Friday morning practice at the season opener in Malaysia in a little over two weeks' time.
Even though the track started off damp from the previous day's rain, the signs were very positive as the sun made an early bold appearance overhead. The initial runs were made on wet tyres, but by the midpoint of the morning the two drivers on the harder compound slick tyres - ART's James Calado and Hilmer Motorsports' Riccardo Agostini - were performing better than their wet-shod counterparts by more than seven seconds a lap on the 2.892-mile, 16-turn circuit.
While there had been a minor reshuffle of the driver line-up, there were no new faces for this final day of pre-season testing. Pal Varhaug returned to Hilmer Motorports after sitting out Wednesday, with Agostini staying on in the other Hilmer as Conor Daly had only been scheduled to spend two days with the team. Meanwhile Sauber F1 test and reserve driver Robin Frijns, having spent all five of the previous tests at Trident Racing, opted to try out a Russian Time car for comparison on the final day at Barcelona.
That left Trident planning on running just one car on Thursday with Rodolfo Gonzalez in the seat, but their plans were complicated by the Venezuelan initially phoning in sick first thing. The team also revealed that French driver Nathanaël Berthon remained a front-runner for the second seat with them, but was having problems securing his sponsorship funding for the year.
In the meantime, Trident were missing out on what were already the best track conditions of the week so far, with times improving rapidly once a dry line started to become established. With one hour left in the morning session, Frijns topped the timesheets with his teammate for the day Tom Dillmann in second place ahead of DAMS's Marcus Ericsson and Venezuela GP Lazarus' Kevin Giovesi, but within minutes Giovesi's team mate Rene Binder pushed the times into new territory with the first sub-1:31s lap of the day.
Binder was then also the cause of the first red flag of the day ten minutes later when he spun at turn 5, by which point the times had continued to tumble to such an extent that the Swiss driver had already been pushed back into sixth place. Caterham Racing's Sergio Canamasas had been the first driver to go under the 90-second mark with his lap of 1:29.611s, and by the time of the stoppage Ericsson's 1:29.606s had just managed to push Canamasas back down into second. Ericsson's DAMS team mate Stéphane Richelmi was in third place, ahead of ART duo James Calado and Daniel Abt. The 24 drivers had also now been joined by the still-poorly Rodolfo Gonzalez, meaning that Trident were finally back in action on Thursday after all, albeit with just the one car.
Once the track reopened after the brief stoppage, Rapax's Stefano Coletti promptly pruned another half a second off the top time, and with half an hour remaining it was time for the all teams to seriously consider the final step-up in performance by switching to the soft compound Pirellis: Coletti, Giovesi, Canamasas, Arden's Mitch Evans and MP Motorsports pair Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Daniël de Jong were all quick to follow the DAMS duo and make the switch. The rest quickly followed suit, with the exception of Frijns and Carlin's Felipe Nasr who saw out the remainder of the session on the hard tyres.
As the chequered flag came out and the drivers headed in for their one-hour lunch break, Coletti held on to the top time with a lap of 1:29.055s ahead of DAMS' pair Ericsson and Richelmi, while Carlin's Jolyon Palmer pipped Sergio Canamasas for fourth spot ahead of James Calado. All 25 drivers - even the sickly Gonzalez - had successfully set lap times in the three-hour session and were looking forward to still-better conditions for the afternoon stint.
Mitch Evans was first out on track after lunch, and there was an unexpected development at Hilmer when Conor Daly returned to the #22 in place of Agostini, perhaps suggesting that the final pieces in the 2013 driver line-up might be coming together behind the scenes.