A wet track proved little obstacle to Trident's Luca Ghiotto as he dominated GP3 qualifying at his home event at Monza to clinch pole position with a time of 1:50.007s, the Trident driver's final run of the morning putting him exactly one second clear of ART Esteban Ocon and the rest of the field.
CLICK: Full GP3 Saturday qualifying times from Monza
Overnight rain and early morning thunderstorms meant that despite sunshine and blue skies breaking out overhead, the 3.6-mile (5.793km) 11-turn Autodromo Nazionale Monza was comprehensively wet for GP3 qualifying first thing on Saturday. Moreover, the circuit had been washed clean of all the rubber laid down by Friday's track activity meaning that everyone faced new and unknown conditions.
The first runs of the 30-minute session were therefore focussed on getting a new feel for the conditions and to start the process of getting the track rubbered in again. It meant that lap times were inevitably getting incrementally faster and faster by the minute with the pole time not likely to emerge until the final seconds when the circuit was as optimal as it would get - unless further showers materialised and threw the plans into disarray.
In the meantime, Jimmy Eriksson (Koiranen GP) and Artur Janosz (Trident) led the somewhat depleted 21-car field out to get down to work in their first wet session of 2015. The Swede has form acquiring pole in such conditions and opened his account with a lap of 1:54.575s which was immediately pipped by 0.014s by his team mate Matt Parry.
That benchmark lasted just a lap before Marvin Kirchhöfer (ART) took over with a new target of 1:52.691s and then championship leader Luca Ghiotto recorded best times in all three seconds to change the game with a time of 1:52.041s. Kirchhöfer's immediate response was a big improvement on his own time but still 0.379s short of recapturing provisional pole, but next time around the ever-changing conditions meant that he was able to make up the deficit and went top by four thousandths of a second. Behind the lead pair there was a big gap to third-place man Emil Bernstorff (Arden), with Esteban Ocon now finding himself fourth after having paced Friday evening's practice session.
Kirchhöfer demonstrated the improving conditions to set a new fast time on his seventh lap on the rain tyres, but his latest effort of 1:51.904s was immediately overturned by Ghiotto's riposte which shaved another 0.077s off the provisional pole target. As the drivers started to head back to pit lane for fresh tyres and set-up changes, Arden's Kevin Ceccon did enough to slot into third place ahead of Bernstorff and Ocon with Status Grand Prix's Seb Morris up to sixth place.
Although the track was clearly drying fast in places, it was still a long way short of allowing anyone to gamble on a switch to slick tyres for their final runs. Ocon was the first to make his lap count with a new fastest lap of 1:51.354s courtesy of a purple sector through Parabolica, and new efforts from Mathéo Tuscher (Jenzer Motorsport) and Sandy Stuvik (Status Grand Prix) put both cars briefly into the top six before a flurry of flying laps changed the order at the top and put Ghiotto back in charge on 1:50.664s, almost seven tenths ahead of Ocon with Parry in third ahead of Bernstorff, Eriksson and Janosz.
The chequered flag was already out to end the session when Kirchhöfer completed his final run, but it wasn't as good as hoped for and only allowed him to tuck in behind Bernstorff for what was now sixth place after a good effort from Ceccon to set the fourth fastest time. In any case, all hopes of anyone managing a last-minute theft of the pole from Ghiotto were comprehensively wiped out by the Italian's final effort which clocked in at a slightly unreal one full second faster than anyone else had managed all morning.
With Ghiotto having secured his fifth pole position of the season, he will be joined on the front row for the race by Ocon with Parry and Ceccon starting immediately behind them. Bernstorff and Kirchhöfer make for a heavyweight third row that will be worth a close watch in the dry conditions of the race, while the top ten on the grid was rounded out by Álex Palou (Campos Racing), Antonio Fuoco (Carlin), Seb Morris and Jimmy Eriksson.
Surprisingly given how tricky the conditions had been for much of the session, there were very few incidents with only a few cars needing to take to the escape roads. The biggest moment belonged to Campos Racing's Zaid Ashkanani who was caught out and flew off into the gravel at Ascari in the first five minutes. Fortunately he avoided getting the car beached in the process, meaning he was able to drive out and rejoin the session without interrupting proceedings.
However technical issues did mean a premature end to Ralph Boschung's day, with his Jenzer Motorsport only able to complete two low-speed installation laps before he pulled back into pit road and climbed out of the cockpit, leaving him reliant on the good graces of the race stewards to be allowed to start Saturday afternoon's race at the back of the grid.
With practice and qualifying now in the books, the 22-lap race 1 will start at 5.20pm local time (4.20pm BST) and the shorter 17-lap race 2 on Sunday morning at 9.25am (8.25am BST).
The GP2 Series is also in action this weekend. The 30-lap feature race is set for Saturday afternoon at 3.40pm (2.40pm BST) after F1 qualifying, with the 21-lap sprint race on Sunday morning at 10.35am (9.35am BST).
See full GP3 Saturday qualifying times from Monza