Johnny Cecotto Jr. set the fastest time in qualifying on Thursday afternoon, putting him in pole position for this weekend's GP2 Series feature race which this time will be held on Friday morning rather than the usual Saturday afternoon.
Cecotto Jr. easily held off Russian Time's Sam Bird and the Venezuelan even called time on the session early while others strived and ultimately failed to top his time. Before he could be confirmed on pole, however, Cecotto then had to wait while a second session was held as qualifying had been split into two 13-car groups to reduce overcrowding on the track, with the odd-numbered cars including Cecotto in the #5 running first.
Group A had duly got underway at 4.15pm local time with Simon Trummer (Rapax) first man out ahead of ART's James Calado and Russian Time's Sam Bird, who had led the earlier practice session. The quick times didn't start coming until the fourth completed lap which saw Carlin's Felipe Nasr go top with a time of 1:22.951s, which was less than five hundredths ahead of Racing Engineering's Julian Leal and Cecotto; next time around it was Bird slicing off another three tenths to go top with Trident's Kevin Ceccon slipping into second place.
Then despite the distraction of Jon Lancaster running off at turn 1 in the Hilmer, Cecotto stole the top spot next time around with a thumping time of 1:21.398s ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the DAMS. Bird, Ceccon and Nasr all improved to bump Ericsson down, but no one could actually touch Cecotto's scorching lap - except for the Venezuelan himself, who made the challenge even harder for his rivals by raising the benchmark to 1:21.141s,s a stunning half a second clear of the next-best effort.
In this unique qualifying format there was no time for the traditional mid-session 'breather', fresh tyres and set-up tweaks so the drivers only had the opportunity for one more run. Cecotto himself wasn't among them: knowing he couldn't improve on his existing time, he electing to watch from pit lane as the rest of the field tried but narrowly failed to oust him before the chequered flag called time on the session.
With the pole target time now known and set for the Group B runners, Venezuela GP Lazarus' Rene Binder and local boy Stefano Coletti in the Rapax led the field out onto the track after a ten-minute interval. Despite running first, they nonetheless came up on the backend of the line of traffic still making its way to the start line as Coletti made his first flying lap attempt of 1:22.731s, which was quickly bettered by Arden's Mitch Evans. Coletti improved to 1:21.756s next time round which put him ahead of Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer, who had suffered a lairy moment in the final corner on his fast lap and was lucky to escape hitting the barriers.
But there were much faster times to come, with Robin Frijns going top thanks to a time of 1:21.418s in the Hilmer ahead of Carlin's Jolyon Palmer and EQ8 Caterham Racing's Sergio Canamasas. Frijns' time was still three tenths off Cecotto's target time for pole from Group A, however. Palmer's initial attempt to go faster was thwarted when he came across Stéphane Richelmi in the final sector, but he got a clear run next time around and went top in Group B with a 1:21.198s which held the top spot for just a matter of seconds before being edged by Leimer by just 0.013s - although thanks to being held up by Jake Rosenzweig (Barwa Addax) his time was still shy of the mark Leimer needed for outright pole.
It was now down to that point where everyone was left with one final lap to pull something out of the bag, but just as in the earlier group by this stage the tyres had gone past their prime and no one was able to improve - with the singular exception of Mitch Evans, who duly stole the top spot from Leimer with a time of 1:21.157s to make it an all-Arden front row with his team mate Cecotto, whose time had indeed been good enough to survive for pole.
Behind the Arden front row, Sam Bird will line-up alongside Fabio Leimer in third and fourth positions, while row three sees Kevin Ceccon and Jolyon Palmer go side-by-side into Ste Devote at the start of the 42-lap feature race. Two drivers have grid penalties - Rio Haryanto has a ten-place drop for causing an accident in the last race at Barcelona, while Rene Binder was subsequently handed a three-place demotion for impeding Sergio Canamasas during Thursday's qualifying in Monaco.
The first race of the weekend gets underway on Friday morning at 11.15am local time (10.15am BST). The 30-lap sprint race takes place on Saturday afternoon at 4.10pm local time (3.10pm BST) after F1 qualifying.See full qualifying times and unofficial starting grid