With a large number of rookies and a serious shortage of Dallara spares after Friday's demolition job (the main perpetrator being Hitech Racing's Walter Grubmuller who modified both the tyre wall and his Dallara F308 rather seriously), this had...
With a large number of rookies and a serious shortage of Dallara spares after Friday's demolition job (the main perpetrator being Hitech Racing's Walter Grubmuller who modified both the tyre wall and his Dallara F308 rather seriously), this had the potential to be interesting and not necessarily in a good way, even before you factored in temperatures struggling to get out of the freezing range.
There was a bit of a rush for the pitlane exit as black clouds appeared behind Old Hall and drifted across, threatening to bring snow at any moment. Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) was out first along with Grubmuller, who almost certainly needed to check that the repairs to his car hadn't significantly affected its performance. He had to hope it hadn't because word in the pit lane was that there were now only three spare Dallara noses left in the whole paddock.
Needless to say, Chilton was first to set a competitive time although Alistair Jackson (Double R Racing) and Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) both contesting it. Turvey's team-mates, Jaime Alguersuari and Sam Abay, both up there too. Meanwhile, Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport), Justin's much younger but equally tall brother, was leading the National Class comfortably, though it seemed unlikely that that would last long; the competition in the category is quite fierce this year considering there are only 8 entries this weekend.
A lap later and Grubmuller was on pole, so the car was pretty much OK it seemed. That didn't stop Alguersuari from promptly taking it off him, while Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing) settled in just behind the Spaniard, despite suspecting that life would be warmer in Finland right now. Meanwhile, Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) snatched the National Class lead from his team mate Wilson, only to lose out to Andrew Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) about half a second later. In the International Class (as it's now known) Turvey improved to claim 4th, only to get edged down with everyone else when Chilton retook pole. Abay went even quicker, and was promptly joined by Brendon Hartley (Carlin Motorsport), and one first sight it looks as if Carlin have a very strong squad this year, despite all except Hartley being rookies in the category - and Hartley hardly counts as vastly experienced either, having only done two races last year (admittedly they were the Masters and Macau).
Further changes occurred when Henry Arundel (Double R Racing) showed up in the top 10, in 6th place, just ahead of Sergio Perez (T-Sport) in the only Honda-engined International class car. A lap later and Chilton and Grubmuller were back ahead with Turvey in 3rd. The session was now getting faster, as became apparent when Alguersuari shot back up to 2nd, and Turvey slotted in in 3rd. Perez almost immediately got in on the act to claim 3rd while Meyrick continued to lead the National Class despite being twice the size of the others.
A third of the way in and Chilton was on pole from Alguersuari, Perez, Turvey, Grubmuller, Abay, Hartley, Arundel, Mustonen and Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing). 11th was Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport), Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport), Bridger (now back in charge of the National Class), Jackson, Meyrick, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport), Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport), Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) and Wilson. Steven Guerrero (T-Sport) was 21st, confusingly next to Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport), Hywel Lloyd (CF racing), Craig Reiff (Nexa Racing) and last of all Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport). So far, Niall Quinn in the Team Loctite entry hadn't been seen.
It wasn't long before Alguersuari grabbed pole from Chilton, displacing the 16-year old and towing Turvey and Tandy with him. A fresh shift in the order and Grubmuller and Chilton were back in contention in 3rd and 4th, while Meyrick reclaimed the National Class lead. And then it went quiet, with no one much improving. Perez was the only one pushing hard at this point, and he proved it by improving to claim 6th - otherwise not much was happening. However, it seemed that Perez might well have been pushing too hard, and the result was a red flag with 12 minutes left on the clock. The culprit was Perez, who was quickly retrieved and towed back to the pit lane, where large clumps of grass were removed from the radiators and various intakes.
The clock was rest to 10 minutes, at which point the order was Alguersuari, leading from Turvey, Grubmuller, Chilton, Hartley, Perez, Ericsson, Tandy, Devaney and Jackson. 11th was Double R Racing's John Martin, from Mustonen, Hohenthal, Arundel, Abay, Meyrick, Bridger, Guerrieri, Major and Teixeira. Al Khalifa was 21st, leading Einar, Guerrero, Lloyd, Wilson and Reiff. There was still no sign of Quinn.
Just as the session restarted, the snow started falling though luckily it was no more than a flurry again, with bright sunshine still bouncing off the shiny bodywork even as the flakes melted away. Needless to say, no one's tyres were warm and it would take a while before we could expect any improvements at all from anyone - well, apart from Quinn, that is. He finally got out with about 6 minutes left, and at least managed to get his qualifying laps in, though he was at the back of the grid despite his best efforts.
The only significant improvements came in the last couple of minutes when Abay improved to set the 11th fastest time. He immediately lost out to Martin who claimed 11th. In fact, the 5th and 6th rows of the grid seemed to be the only ones being contested at this point, with Hohenthal continuing as he did last year, leaving his improvements to the last minute and going 10th. There were two more major shifts, when Mustonen grabbed 9th and Martin shot up to 7th. Lloyd improved but remained 24th, not improving his position in the National Class. And so, everyone retreated to the garages to try and thaw out. Alguersuari and Turvey had the front row sewn up for Carlin, with Grubmuller and Chilton blocking out the row behind. Hartley was 5th, from Perez, Martin, Ericsson, Tandy and Mustonen. Devaney was 11th, from Hohenthal, Jackson, Abay, Arundel, National Class pole man Meyrick, Bridger, Guerrieri, Major and Teixeira. 21st was Al Khalifa, ahead of Einar, Guerrero, Lloyd, Wilson, Reiff and Quinn.
Weather: Light snow flurries, sunny spells, cold.