CLICK: Full GP2 qualifying results from Friday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.
A flying lap of 1:15.312s just before the halfway point of Friday's GP2 qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring was enough to secure pole position for Trident's Johnny Cecotto Jr, as a flurry of attempts from the likes of Jolyon Palmer, Felipe Nasr, Stefano Coletti, Raffaele Marciello and Stoffel Vandoorne ultimately proved insufficient to dethrone the Venezuelan.
With rain forecast to arrive during the 30-minute qualifying session, everyone was keen to get out on track and put in a banker lap while it was dry. That made the 2.688-mile, nine-turn a crowded to place to be and initially everyone struggled to find sufficient space to set a fast time without falling over a rival in the process.
Arden's Andre Negrao initially went top with a time of 1:17.552 but that was quickly surpassed by a welter of better times, before Cecotto became the first man of the session to go into the 1:15s ahead of Raffaele Marciello (Racing Engineering), Felipe Nasr (Carlin) and Stoffel Vandoorne (ART).
Championship leader Jolyon Palmer promptly captured the top spot with a lap of 1:15.495s, but Cecotto responded immediately to go 0.183s faster than the DAMS with his best effort of the day. Nasr's effort to pip them both ended up with him drifting wide in the final corner and rallying across the grass strip, by no means the first driver of the day to do that.
After a breathless first half of the session, the field returned to pit lane for service with Cecotto still in control of the time screens ahead of Palmer, Vandoorne and Carlin pair Julian Leal and Felipe Nasr, with Stefano Coletti in sixth ahead of his team mate Marciello.
With ten minutes remaining and the rain still playing coy about putting in an appearance despite the build-up of dark clouds overhead, the drivers returned to the fray for one last stint; Daniel de Jong was lucky to avoid damage to his MP Motorsport car when he spun on cold tyres at pit exit.
The drivers struggled to return to their earlier pace, Jolyon Palmer spinning in the penultimate corner on his attempt to reclaim provisional pole while Nasr and Marciello improved to third and fourth behind him. There were marked improvements outside the top six, but some drops of rain in the final corners meant that promising first sector times from the likes of Arthur Pic, Stoffel Vandoorne and Arthur Pic were squandered. Marciello's own final effort also ended up in a mistake in turn eight which left him furious at himself at the lost opportunity to make his mark.
As the dust settled, the top three remained Cecotto, Palmer and Nasr who were covered by a mere 0.046s, while less than a tenth further back Coletti managed to put in one final push to steal fourth place on the feature race grid from his team mate Marciello by just 0.006s. He'll start alongside Vandoorne on the third row of the grid, just ahead of Campos Racing's Arthur Pic and Russian Time's Mitch Evans.
The 40-lap feature race starts on Saturday afternoon at 3.40pm local time (2.40pm BST). The shorter 28-lap sprint race 2 will be on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST). Both races 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) in the afternoon. The second race will be early on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).Full GP2 qualifying results from Friday at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.