Current championship leader Luca Ghiotto topped the 30-minute qualifying session with a lap of 1:34.030s in the Trident on the 2.722-mile, 16-turn Hungaroring on Saturday morning, putting him 0.036s ahead of Arden's Emil Bernstorff and ART's Esteban Ocon in a hard-fought session that saw provisional pole bounce from driver to driver at a furious rate right to the end.
It's a return to form for Ghiotto, who came out top in qualifying at the first two rounds of the season in Spain and Austria but who had then been comprehensively out-qualified by his chief title rival Marvin Kirchhöfer last time out at Silverstone.
CLICK: Full GP3 Saturday morning qualifying times from the Hungaroring.
It had been an unusual start to the session, with a number of drivers opting to come out and set an initial flying lap time but then head straight back down pit lane for some very early adjustments to their car's handling. Carlin's Mitchell Gilbert had been first to set a time, but it had been quickly bettered by Koiranen GP duo Adderly Fong and Matt Parry, although all these times were still some two seconds off the expected pole pace given the ideal bright, sunny and very warm conditions first thing in Budapest.
There was a step change to the proceedings ten minutes in when Ghiotto finally showed his hand and posted a time of 1:35.144s, although that was immediately bettered by Esteban Ocon who recorded an effort of 1:34.790s. Ghiotto responded with a new time of 1:34.516s to depose Ocon from provisional pole by 0.274s, but Emil Bernstorff was able to jump ahead of both of them and go top by one hundredths of a second.
It wasn't until the final five minutes of the session that Bernstorff's lap was bettered and the benchmark lowered still further, first by Ghiotto whose proffered time of 1:34.296 was immediately bettered just seconds after being set by ART's Kirchhöfer by 0.065s. Bernstorff was able to respond, and with 90 seconds left on the clock he went back to the top with a time of 1:34.066s. Parry looked on course to join him on the front row but a twitch through the final corner left him in fourth place from which he was soon bumped by his own team mate Jimmy Eriksson.
That left Ghiotto time for just one final lap to try and claim pole position, and the Italian managed to pull it off as the chequered flag came out to call an end to the session. Bernstorff had nothing left to offer and had to settle for second place alongside Ghiotto on the grid, while Ocon made a late improvement to pip Kirchhöfer for third place.
Eriksson and Parry make it an all-Koiranen third row with Campos Racing's Álex Palou taking seventh place alongside Carlin's Antonio Fuoco, while Kevin Ceccon (Arden International) and Pål Varhaug (Jenzer Motorsport) round out the top ten for the start of the first GP3 race of the weekend. Gilbert ended up being pushed just outside in 11th place ahead of Jenzer Motorsport pair Mathéo Tuscher and Ralph Boschung sandwiching Status Grand Prix's Seb Morris in 13th place.
It proved to be only marginally a better day than Friday for Carlin's Jann Mardenborough who ended up a disappointing 18th on the grid after missing much of the previous evening's sole practice session. He had finished bottom of yesterday's timesheets after mechanical issues left him stranded on track in turn 14 after having completed just six laps, triggering a red flag in the session while the stricken car was retrieved and returned to the GP3 garage area.
Campos Racing's Samin Gómez claimed 22nd place on the grid after overcoming a harmless late spin in turn 5 as she made her return to GP3 after missing the Silverstone round. She was the slowest driver to set a time in the session, as ART's Alfonso Celis Jr. spent the morning beset by technical issues and unable to record a flying lap meaning he will have to seek special dispensation from the race stewards to line-up on the grid after missing out on the 107 per cent limit.
The grid is a car short in Hungary as Trident has reduced their line-up to just two cars for this weekend's races in the absence of Óscar Tunjo.
The 22-lap race 1 will get underway this afternoon at 5.20pm (4.20pm BST) with the shorter race 2 consisting of 17 laps taking place first thing on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
The GP2 Series is also in action this weekend, with the 37-lap feature race set to get underway on Saturday afternoon at 3.40pm (2.40pm BST), and the Sunday sprint race tomorrow at 10.35am (9.35am BST) consisting of 28 laps.
See full GP3 Saturday morning qualifying times from the Hungaroring.