Qualifying for this weekend's GP2 feature race proved to be very much a two-horse race: it will have surprised no one that Stoffel Vandoorne was one of them and right in the thick of things, but the genuine surprise package proved to be Rapax driver Sergey Sirotkin in his first visit to Silverstone.
The Russian teenager was able to stay within striking distance of the Belgian's times in the first half of the session, before he was then comprehensively took control in the second to clinch his maiden series pole position. In the end he did it with an impressive lap of 1:39.949s, 0.185s faster than Vandoorne or anyone else in the field was capable of.
CLICK: Full Friday GP2 qualifying times from Silverstone
The skies had clouded over somewhat since the earlier practice session allowing the track temperature to cool off slightly although the air temperature remained quite toasty, but there was absolutely no threat of rain as the GP2 cars streamed out of pit lane on their medium option Pirelli tyres onto the 3.661-mile, 18-turn Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire for the start of the 30-minute qualifying session.
Missing from the fray was practice pacesetter Rio Haryanto, who was left sitting on pit lane as the Campos Racing team swarmed around the #15 car removing bits of bodywork in an urgent attempt to fix a faulty engine sensor in time to allow the Indonesian driver to get out and set a fastest lap attempt. Also missing the opening of the session was Jon Lancaster, engine issues thwarting his preparations for his first appearance back in the GP2 Series in 2015 with Hilmer Motorsport.
In Haryanto's absence, the first genuine qualifying time was set by Lazarus's Sergio Canamasas who logged in at 1:40.793s, but he was almost immediately displayed from the top sort by perennial pole winner Stoffel Vandoorne who punched out a banker first lap of 1:40.386s to go 0.082s faster than Sergey Sirotkin in the Rapax. Alex Lynn's first effort in the Carlin was enough to put him in third place, just under a second faster than Canamasas.
Vandoorne extended his lead at the top with a follow-up effort of 1:40.134s but Sirotkin was able to improve by almost exactly the same amount keeping the margin between them to less than a tenth of a second, the paid now over half a second clear of Lynn, Canamasas and the rest of the field.
Making a one-off guest appearance in GP2, Formula Renault 3.5 points leader Oliver Rowland showed his class with an impressive lap of 1:40.537s in his maiden outing in the series to go third fastest ten minutes into qualifying. Just as the cars started to stream back down pit lane for the usual mid-session, Rio Haryanto was finally able to come out to play and he found that he had the track (and the TV coverage) completely to himself giving him plenty of room to get down to work and put himself up into sixth place having recorded the same time down to the thousandths of a second as Canamasas.
With just under ten minutes remaining the rest of the field stirred back into life and crowded their way down pit lane to start their final runs of the day. Managing the heavy traffic conditions to get enough space to put in a new flier now became half the battle with Alex Lynn among those finding himself frustratingly right in the thick of a long along tailback.
Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi was the first to navigate the conditions successfully and leap into third place with a new time of 1:40.429s but the driver punching in purple sectors was Sirotkin who managed to leapfrog Vandoorne for provisional pole by 0.150s with the first lap of the day under 1:40s which he then managed to lower still further next time around. Vandoorne's response ended in the ART out-braking itself into Becketts and locking up, forcing the Belgian to abort the attempt having squandered the best of his final set of tyres.
With the front row decided, Status Grand Prix's Richie Stanaway sparkled with a final effort of 1:40.378s as the chequered flag came out to end to the session, the Kiwi managing to pip Rossi for third place in the process. Campos Racing's Arthur Pic had improved to fifth place to put him alongside Pierre Gasly (DAMS) on the third row of the grid, followed by Nobuharu Matsushita (ART) and Raffaele Marciello (Trident) with Oliver Rowland ending up getting pushed down to ninth place in the final rush of new fastest lap times.
Julian Leal rounded off the top ten for Carlin meaning that Hilmer Motorsport's Nick Yelloly will have to take the green flag from 11th place on the grid, having been baulked on a crucial flying lap by a distracted Robert Visoiu (Rapax) who was subsequently handed a three-place grid penalty by the race stewards for impeding a competitor during the session. Lynn was also frustrated not to be able to reproduce his practice performance as he ended up a decidedly mediocre 12th place ahead of Racing Engineering's Jordan King, while Canamasas ended his day in 14th.
After his delayed start to the session, Haryanto's qualifying continued to be compromised a he played catch-up for the rest of the available time and he finished in 15th place, definitely not what he had been hoping for after topping the earlier practice. At least the Indonesian fared better than Lancaster whose mechanical issues proved terminal for the day meaning that the Briton will need special permission from the race stewards to start Saturday's feature race form the back of the grid.
Johnny Cecotto Jr. will make his first start for Carlin in 18th place after taking over race duties in the #4 car from Marco Sorensen. That still puts him well ahead of some notable names in the field including Norman Nato (Arden), Mitch Evans (Russian Time), Daniël De Jong (MP Motorsport) and Rene Binder (Trident) who will start tomorrow's race from 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd respectively.
Saturday afternoon's 29-lap feature race 1 gets underway at 2.40pm. The shorter 21-lap sprint race will be held on Sunday morning starting at 9.35am.
The GP3 field is also in action this weekend, with practice taking place on Friday afternoon at 5.50pm and qualifying on Saturday morning at 8.45am. The 20-lap race 1 gets the green flag on Saturday afternoon at 4.20pm and the 15-lap race 2 is on Sunday morning commencing at 8.25am.
See full Friday GP2 qualifying times from Silverstone