Marvin Kirchhöfer claimed his third GP3 pole position after managing to hold off Emil Bernstorff in a fierce battle for supremacy in qualifying for Saturday afternoon's first race of the third round of the championship.
It's the 21-year-old's first pole of the season, his last time leading the field to the green flag having been at Yas Marina in the final race of 2014. It manages to break the run of two back-to-back poles from Luca Ghiotto that had opened the current campaign; by contrast, this week Ghiotto will have to resign himself to spending today's race working his way forwards from the comparatively lowly situation of sixth place on the grid.
CLICK: Full Saturday GP3 qualifying times from Silverstone
After a foggy start to the morning at Silverstone, the sun was starting to gain the ascendancy a the GP3 fired up their engines and streamed out of pit lane on the super hard Pirelli compound tyres to begin the 30-minute early morning qualifying to set the grid for the afternoon's first race of the weekend. Overnight rain and storms has washed the 3.661-mile, 18-turn circuit clean of much of the rubber that had been laid down by F1 and the various support races on Friday, leaving the 30-minute session a clean slate and very much a journey of discovery as they got straight down to work.
The first representative flying lap was recorded by ART's Marvin Kirchhöfer who opened his account with a time of 1:49.708s butting him a couple of tents faster than Carlin's Mitchell Gilbert and Kirchhöfer's ART team mate Esteban Ocon. The German immediately lowered the benchmark to 1:48.453s to keep himself ahead of similarly much-improved efforts from Campos Racing's Álex Palou, Ocon and Status Grand Prix's Seb Morris.
Friday practice pacesetter Luca Ghiotto had been one of the last cars to leave the pit lane but he wasted no time in leaping into second place albeit still 0.424 off Kirchhöfer's provisional pole target. Palou's next effort cut that deficit in half to put him in second with Arden's Emil Bernstorff also managing to pip Ghiotto to slip into third place after ten minutes of on-track activity.
No one had been able to dislodge Kirchhöfer from the top, that is not until the Koiranen GP of Jimmy Eriksson and Matthew Parry leapt into action and to the top of the timings. Eriksson's time of 1:48.165s stood, but Parry's was immediately deleted for having gone too wide at Copse which the drivers had been specifically warned about in the day's briefing.
Eriksson did not last long at the top before he was deposed by a new bid of 1:47.955 from Ghiotto, while Parry's follow-up effort was only good enough on this occasion for fourth place behind Kirchhöfer, and was in turn immediately bettered by Trident's Artur Janosz just before the mid-session break for the driver to return to pit lane for a fresh set of tyre to allow them to make their final runs.
Bernstorff was quickly back on full attack as he went top just eighth hundredths of a second faster than Ghiotto to get a hand on provisional pole, just before Zaid Ashkanani caused a stir by off-roading through turn 1 and spinning in the Campos Racing #23.
After a sluggish start to the morning, Adderly Fong finally succeeded in joining his Koiranen team mates at the sharp end of the timings in fourth place. He was soon demoted one spot by an improved time from Gilbert which put the Carlin briefly top before first Bernstorff and then Kirchhöfer were able to post faster laps still. Parry also improved to temporarily split the pair up and claim a provisional front row spot for himself alongside Kirchhöfer, but Alex Palou had the same thought and decided to take over second forcing Parry down to third. With just 0.081s covering all of the top four drivers underscoring how close and hard-fought the session was proving to be.
Bernstorff found a little more time leapfrog the interlopers and get within 0.003s of Kirchhöfer, but the ART man dug deeper still and pulled away with a blistering final push that took him down to 1:47.040s just before the chequered flag came out meaning that his rivals had run out of time to press their claims to the pole spot.
Joining Kirchhöfer on the front row will be Bernstorff, with Palou and Parry lining up behind them ahead of Erikson, Ghiotto, Fong, Ocon, Gilbert and Arden's Kevin Ceccon. Seb Morris ended up being pushed down to 13th place on the grid where he will start the race alongside fellow Brit Jann Mardenborough who appeared no wore for wear for the Friday afternoon practice spin that had caused that session to be briefly red flagged while the Carlin was retrieved.
The GP3 drivers will be back in action later today for the 20-lap race 1 which gets underway at 4.20pm, while the 15-lap race 2 is on Sunday morning commencing at 8.25am. The GP2 Series is also in action at Silverstone this weekend, with the 29-lap feature race 1 getting the green flag today at 2.40pm and the shorter 21-lap sprint race taking place on Sunday morning at 9.35am.
See full Saturday GP3 qualifying times from Silverstone