CLICK: Full practice session results from Monza
Campos Racing's Arthur Pic took advantage of a relatively clear track 15 minutes into the 45-minute GP2 practice session to go top of the timesheets at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza on Friday.
The Frenchman was subsequently able to improve his time still further and he finished the session with a best lap of 1:32.256 on the 3.6-mile 11-turn circuit which was almost two tenths faster than ART's Stoffel Vandoorne, while championship leader Jolyon Palmer was third fastest for DAMS.
Running in dry but somewhat cool conditions, and with the noon sun only just starting to break through the earlier cloud and mist, the first third of the GP session saw the name at the top of the timesheets continually in flux. Johnny Cecotto Jr (Trident) was the first man to set a representative lap time of 1:33.295, and when that was soon bettered by Jolyon Palmer he was quick to improve his time to regain the top spot again.
Simon Trummer (Rapax) was next to go in front, by 0.122s from Stefano Coletti (Racing Engineering), after which Palmer once again found some more pace to set a new benchmark time of 1:32.716s that was itself in turn soon bettered by 0.171s by Mitch Evans in the #1 Russian Time car. Vandoorne then went top for the first time when he shaved another tenth off Evans' time shortly before the cars started to return to pit lane for their first round of set-up tweaks, which was the cue for Pic to take advantage of the temporarily clear track to put in an effort of 1:32.385s to go five hundredths of a second ahead.
With no one inclined to throw extra sets of tyres at practice, the middle part of the session saw few time improvements as teams worked on longer distance simulations, meaning that Pic remained top ahead of Vandoorne, Palmer, Evans and Coletti with Felipe Nasr up to sixth place for Carlin. In all, 20 of the 26 cars were within a second of Pic's time.
Coletti became the first driver of the weekend to be bitten by the new Parabolica layout, losing the backend and spinning across the astroturf and asphalt, putting him into the gravel trap where his session ended with a little over 20 minutes remaining. His team mate Raffaele Marciello also hit problems, grinding to a halt midway round the track after the chequered flag came out.
Just as had been the case in F1 free practice, a number of drivers had problems timing their entry into the turn 1 chicane and resorted to the run-off - or in the case of Daniel Abt, the Hilmer Motorsport #11 spun around over the high kerbing which caused slight damage to the floor of the car in the process. Cecotto was nearly rear-ended into the same corner when his Trident team mate Sergio Canamasas locked up; Canamasas subsequently also had a messy trip through the Ascari chicane later in the session.
With under ten minutes to go in the session, Trummer improved to sixth place despite a hesitation through the Parabolica, but yellow flags for Rio Haryanto's Caterham which had pulled over to the grass verge on the run down to Lesmo 1 meant that drivers had to lift off until it was pulled back behind the safety barriers. That incident was cleared by the time that Pic set off on his final run which saw him improve to 1:32.256s to confirm his place at the top of the timesheets.
There were two new faces in the line-up at Monza, with Caterham's Pierre Gasly setting the 22nd fastest time 1.264s off Pic's in his first outing, while Auto GP World Series driver Sergio Campana was 25th fastest for Venezuala GP Lazarus after taking over from Conor Daly for his first GP2 race since his début in the series here at Monza in 2013.
Next up for the drivers is qualifying which will take place after the second F1 free practice session at 3.55pm local time (2.55pm BST) with the green flag for the 30-lap feature race 1 set for 3.40pm (2.40pm BST) on Saturday afternoon. The 21-lap sprint race 2 will get underway on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST). All sessions will be shown live in the UK on Sky Sports F1.
GP3 action gets underway with practice on Friday evening at 5.50pm local time (4.50pm BST) with qualifying on Saturday morning at 9.45am (8.45am BST). The first 17-lap race will be on Saturday afternoon at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST) with race 2 on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
See full practice session results from Monza