If the results of Thursday morning's practice session are anything to go by, then the GP2 qualifying practice this afternoon at Bahrain International Circuit could prove to be a thriller, with the top four drivers all covered by less than a tenth of a second.

See GP2 practice results from Bahrain International Circuit

This is GP2's second visit this year to Bahrain, the return visit being organised to replace the originally scheduled German round following the cancellation of the Grand Prix in the summer for financial reasons.

DAMS' Pierre Gasly set the early pace with a lap of 1:41.230s on the 15-turn, 3.363-mile circuit, almost a full second clear of Racing Engineering's Alexander Rossi and Trident's Rafaelle Marciello, who then improved to get within two tenths of Gasly's impressive early benchmark.

After 14 minutes, the new 2015 GP2 drivers champion Stoffel Vandoorne briefly took control of the times clocking in at 1:41.213s before an improvement put Rossi 0.033s faster, ahead of the first hiatus back on pit lane for set-up tweaks. A middle stint largely focusing on race distance simulations meant no significant changes to the top times for the duration.

The scorching conditions of high noon also meant that no one was able to find any extra time in the final stint either. Rossi, Vandoorne and Gasly were left unassailed at the top of the timing screens, all three covered by just half a tenth of a second. Vandoorne's team mate Nobuharu Matsushita was just 0.023s further back in fourth ahead of Rapax's Sergei Sirotkin, Marciello having dropped back to sixth ahead of the second DAMS car in the hands of Alex Lynn.

It was a cautious return back to GP2 action for three familiar faces: Daniel de Jong was 21st in the session in his first race since he sustained back injuries in a nasty crash at Spa-Francorchamps, having moved from MP Motorsports in the interim to take over the Trident #12 car vacated by Johnny Cecotto Jr.

Gustav Malja is also back and was 22nd fastest in practice, having similarly moved to a new team after agreeing to take over from Robert Visoiu at Rapax in car #19 after the Romanian driver suffered an unspecified injury in the interval since GP2's last outing at Russia.

And Oliver Rowland makes his return to the series, this time in the Status Grand Prix car previously driven by Richie Stanaway. The Formula 3.5 Series champion was over two seconds off Rossi's pace in practice as he eased himself back into the GP2 car, having not been in the competition since Spa at the end of August.

The enforced change from Germany to Bahrain means this round is being held away from Formula 1 for the first and only time this year, with the Bahrain event sharing the spotlight with the Six Hours of Bahrain endurance race.

As a result there is an adjusted schedule for the weekend, with practice and qualifying taking place on Thursday, the feature race 1 on Friday afternoon, and the sprint race 2 on Saturday morning.

See GP2 practice results from Bahrain International Circuit