Briton pips De Marco and Bailly in Czech Republic opener
Jolyon Palmer provided a wet-weather masterclass in a treacherous opening practice session in Brno, the Briton setting a string of fastest laps to top the timesheets for almost the entire 30 minutes.
With the rain abating as the session began, the championship leader looked in good touch from the outset and was fastest after his first flying effort. As the track dried, Palmer was able to take advantage and he set about establishing a clear gap between himself and the rest of the field over the first half of the session.
"I was quick straightaway and it felt quite clam," Jolyon explained – "I just kept plugging away on the laps and I had no traffic really so it was the perfect session. Brands was my worst weekend of the year by a country mile but I’m not going to take any mad risks here – I like the track and it suits my style so hopefully it will be a good weekend."
As Palmer dominated with a string of purple sectors and fastest laps, Russia’s Sergey Afanasiev looked his main challenger but was often only able to close to within half a second of the Briton.
With just ten minutes to go, however, Italy’s Nicola De Marco – a polesitter at Brno last year – made the most of a significantly drying track to start his own charge, which eventually saw the Italian finish just two tenths shy of Palmer’s overall benchmark.
Benjamin Bailly and Will Bratt also set their fastest times as the session drew to a close, with the Belgian pipping Bratt by just five thousandths of a second to claim third. It was an impressive display by both men, both of whom finished within half a second of Palmer despite never having been to the circuit before.
Having missed out on a first win of 2010 in the last race at Brands Hatch, Kazim Vasiliauskas will be hoping to bounce back this weekend and the Lithuanian got off to a good start by finishing fifth fastest in first practice.
Kazim’s effort demoted the impressive Sergey Afanasiev into sixth, with the Russian the last driver to lap within one second of Jolyon Palmer’s best.
Both Philipp Eng and Dean Stoneman, Palmer’s two main championship rivals, could only manage seventh and eighth respectively, although Stoneman did have the difficult challenge of learning the Brno circuit for the first time in the wet.
Natalia Kowalska meanwhile was an impressive ninth, matching her best ever result in F2, while Ivan Samarin – who at one stage had matched exactly Jolyon Palmer’s best effort in sector two – rounded out the top ten. Kelvin Snoeks, returning to F2 after a broken ankle forced him to miss Brands Hatch, finished 12th fastest.
A late red flag period, brought about by a stalled engine on the test car of Steven Kane, led to the session ending five minutes early. Jack Clarke and Julian Theobald were the only spinners when the session was at its wettest, although both were able to rejoin without damage.