CLICK: Full GP2 practice results from Friday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
The GP2 drivers got their first-ever taste of Austria's Red Bull Ring on Friday, with Carlin's Julian Leal topping the 45-minute practice session with a time of 1:15.652s on the 2.688-mile, nine-turn circuit, just ahead of Racing Engineering pair Raffaele Marciello and Stefano Coletti.
Conditions for practice were grey and overcast, rather cool and breezy at the relatively high altitude and subject to the same spells of light rain that had begin to plague the earlier F1 Free Practice Session.
Sticking to slick tyres, DAMS' Jolyon Palmer set an initial benchmark of 1:21.090s but this was soon bested by Felipe Nasr in the Carlin, Trident's Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Conor Daly in the Venezuela GP Lazarus car as times quickly improved even despite the pulses of rain falling over Spielberg.
Just as had been the case in F1 there were a good number of lock-ups and instances of cars running wide especially into turn 1 and through the penultimate corner, and these increased as the rain picked up. Even so, Alexander Rossi went top of the times for Caterham with a lap of 1:16.544s 15 minutes into the session, putting him just ahead of Russian Time's Mitch Evans.
In the next phase of the session, the rain abated and an improved lap from Stefano Coletti put the Monegasque top. Nasr responded with a lap of 1:15.944s on his second effort after his first almost ended in a collision with Hilmer Motorsport's Facu Regalia who turned across Nasr's line in the penultimate corner and who will now have to meet with the race stewards to discuss the incident. Nasr wasn't top for long, however, before Coletti's team mate Raffaele Marciello stole the limelight by 0.176s.
A final call to pit lane set the field up for a final ten minute stint out on track, and despite ageing tyres and difficulties navigating crowded traffic on the short circuit many drivers managed to improve their times, including Coletti who moved to within a tenth of his team mate. However it was Julian Leal who was the only man capable of ousting Marciello in the final minutes, posting the fastest lap of the session just before another burst of rain hit turns 1 and 2 and prevented anyone from putting in any further fliers.
In any case, the drivers were less focused on the timing screens than they were dialling themselves into the circuit and working out the best places to get past their rivals on Saturday and Sunday, which are also set to be in much drier, sunnier and warmer conditions than they've had so far on Friday.
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Austria was on the GP2 calendar this season," said Arden's Rene Binder, for whom this will be a home event. "The main straight is not very long, but following turns 1 and 2, there is a much longer straight. It will be the perfect place to try a manoeuvre there. I'm sure we'll see two very interesting races this weekend!"
Teams have been issued with medium and soft Pirelli tyres for their prime and option selections this weekend. There have been no driver changes in GP2, but in the sister series Russian driver Nikolay Martsenko takes over from compatriot Ivan Taranov in the Hilmer Motorsport GP3 squad.
Qualifying for this weekend's GP2 feature race will be at 3.55pm local time (2.55pm BST) with the 40-lap race itself on Saturday afternoon at 3.40pm (2.40pm BST). The shorter 28-lap sprint race 2 will be on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST). All sessions will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports F1.
GP3 gets underway with practice on Friday afternoon at 5.50pm (4.50pm BST), then qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST) ahead of race 1 at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST). The second race is first thing on Sunday at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
Full GP2 practice results from Friday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.