Pastor faster in Spa free practice
1 January 1901
Pastor Maldonado came out on the top of the timesheets in overcast, but dry, conditions as the GP2 Series field took to the Spa-Francorchamps track for the brief free practice session they hope will prepare them for qualifying at the notoriously fickle circuit.
Maldonado set the pace from the start of the session, with his best time of 1min 57.055secs coming ten minutes into the period despite strong pressure from championship leader Giorgio Pantano. The Italian was just 0.048secs behind the Piquet Sports driver when the chequered flag dropped, with Valencia race winner Vitaly Petrov just over a tenth adrift.
The big surprise of the session was the relative positions of Pantano's title rivals, with Lucas di Grassi and Bruno Senna finishing in 15th and 16th positions respectively. However, the iSport driver, in particular, overcame a seemingly weak practice session in Valencia last time out to convert 18th place into a top ten grid slot, and both will be expected to do the same again on a layout they know well.
With little time for repairs before qualifying, most of the grid drove conservatively, but 15 drivers - down to Senna, the last of those in the 1min 57s - were still within a second of Maldonado's target time. Right behind the top three were Sébastien Buemi, Davide Valsecchi, Karun Chandhok, Andreas Zuber, Andy Soucek, Kobayashi and local favourite Jérôme d'Ambrosio, while Alvaro Parente, Roldan Rodriguez and Sakon Yamamoto all slotting in ahead of the slightly tardy title contenders.
Yamamoto, however, spun in front of ART Grand Prix team-mate Romain Grosjean early in the session, although both managed to stay off the wall, and the Frenchman himself spun just before the pit-lane entrance as he was coming in for new tyres.
In the second half of the session, despite storm cloud gathering, some of the drivers took a gamble by running almost no rear wing, most notably Chandhok and Kamui Kobayashi. Both were fast through Eau Rouge, but lost time on the rest of the circuit and, with the Japanese driver finding the wall later on the lap, it's unlikely anyone will repeat the experiment in qualifying.
The half-hour timed session could have its own hurdles for the 26 runners to negotiate, however, as the rain clouds continue to get ever lower, meaning that there is a very good chance that qualifying will be wet.