Pastor Maldonado will chase an unprecedented double when the GP2 Series race in Monaco gets underway on Saturday, looking to add victory to the success he enjoyed in the bill-sharing World Series by Renault last season.

The Venezuelan returned to the head of the field in the half-hour qualifying session on Friday morning, pushing pre-session favourites ART Grand Prix and iSport International into the shade. The Trident Racing rookie topped the opening practice session on Thursday, and underlined his intent with fourth in Friday's early second practice, before posting the only time under 1min 21secs in qualifying. Maldonado set his best time of 1min 20.820secs early in the session, and remained top as the usual Monaco madness prevented anyone from going faster.

He has a chequered history in the Principality, having been banned from the WSbR race two years ago after injuring a marshal after failing to slow for yellow flags. He bounced back in 2006, however, sweeping to a victory he now hopes to reprise in GP2 this season.

"I think we prepared for this race at the maximum, and I'm quite happy for everyone," the polewinner said afterwards, "We have to think about the strategy for the race, but now we have our first points, we will see [what happens] tomorrow."

Maldonado, who endured trying weekends in Bahrain and Barcelona, will line up just ahead of Campos' Giorgio Pantano - the Italian no doubt grateful to be ahead of what he expects will be trouble in the pack - and iSport's Andi Zuber, while points leader Timo Glock managed only eighth place after suffering at the hands of traffic.

Although maybe a little unnerved to have Maldonado alongside him for the run to Ste Devote on Saturday, Pantano was nonetheless happy to be back at the sharp end of the grid.

"From the start of the year, we've had a good car and have just be a bit unlucky in the first few races," the Italian noted, "I hope that, from here, we start to go back and compete for the wins and championship."

Pantano, Zuber and Glock all set fastest times early in the session, with the latter looking exceptionally quick throughout but having more bad luck than most with slower cars.

"I'm quite happy, especially considering there was oil on the track for the last four or five laps," Zuber commented, "In fact, I did my fastest lap on my last lap when there was oil on the track, so I'm very happy."

As expected, there were also a number of yellow flag periods, starting with Kohei Hirate running too deep into Ste Devote and stalling as he tried to get back on track. Vitaly Petrov then went backwards into the same corner, removing his rear wing in the process, while practice pacesetter Lucas di Grassi and Mike Conway tangled at the hairpin.

Matters weren't helped by Luca Filippi losing his engine in the tunnel, the resultant oil slick prompting the arrival of the red flag with seven minutes remaining, but few were expected tom improve even after the clean-up operation, as most of the drivers were on their second set of tyres, and had already pushed them past their best. When Jason Tahinci then threw his FMSI entry into the Swimming Pool barriers, it was game over.

Behind the top three, series debutant Sebastien Buemi impressed again to claim a second row start on his maiden outing as Michael Ammermuller's stand-in at ART Grand Prix. Team-mate di Grassi overcame his incident with Conway to claim fifth, ahead of fellow sufferers Vitaly Petrov - backing up Campos team-mate Pantano with an above expectation performance - Filippi and Glock.

Former British F3 rivals Bruno Senna and Conway complete the top ten, immediately ahead of Monaco rookie Adrian Zaugg and comparative veterans Antonio Pizzonia and Nicolas Lapierre - the Frenchman back in the pack as he was when he was launched at the start last year.

Barcelona podium visitor Javier Villa and DPR's Andy Soucek were both unable to repeat their practice form, taking 14th and 17th respectively, while former F1 pilot Sakon Yamamoto had to make do with 23rd.