Sten Pentus working with the barriers
The Formula Renault 3.5 Series' one-and-only free practice session saw the drivers regularly improve lap times on the tricky Monaco street circuit. Sten Pentus (Fortec Motorsport), a man with bags of confidence since the start of the season, negotiated the fastest lap, just before the session was interrupted when Julian Leal (International Draco Racing) crashed into the barriers. Mikhail Aleshin (Carlin) and Alexander Rossi (ISR) make up the top 3.
The drivers of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series had the honour of getting the on-track action underway at this 68th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix. First out, they also had to contend with the inevitable lack of grip in the first few minutes of the session. Newcomer to the discipline, Alexander Rossi, was first to climb up Beau Rivage, to discover both the Monaco circuit and the Formula Renault 3.5 race car.
The session started badly for Italian driver Federico Leo (Pons Racing) who hit the crash barriers at the Tunnel exit and had to pull out of the session there and then. Mikhail Aleshin was the early pace-maker, ahead of Sten Pentus, Greg Mansell (Fortec Motorsport) and Daniel Zampieri (Pons Racing).
As the drivers found their marks and grip conditions improved, the standings changed almost with every lap. The names Daniel Zampieri, Daniil Move (Junior Lotus Racing), Mikhail Aleshin, Sten Pentus and Alexander Rossi all took turns at the top of the timing screens. Julian Leal managed to make the break with a fast lap time of 1'28''987 as the session entered the last 20 minutes. At that point when all drivers decided to pit for new tyres, Julian Leal was in first place, followed by Mikhail Aleshin, Brendon Hartley (Tech 1 Racing) and Stefano Coletti (Comtec Racing).
With new rubber, the standings moved again. Alexander Rossi, quick to get to grips with the ISR team's car, took over, lapping in 1'28''814, before Mikhail Aleshin reminded everyone that he's the current championship leader, by grabbing the top spot in 1'28''723. Then Sergio Canamasas (Interwetten.com) hit the barrier in Casino Square.
With ten minutes to go, the track was perfectly clear. Mikhail Aleshin put in a lap time of 1'28''199, improving on the provisional best time, before Sten Pentus knocked him definitively off the top of the top on the leaderboard. The Estonian then led from Mikhail Aleshin, Alexander Rossi and Stefano Colletti.
Just as the intermediate times showed that several drivers were on quick laps, Julian Leal hit the barrier at the Tunnel exit, damaging his car pretty badly. The session was brought to an early close, when the red flag was shown. Six drivers, including Sten Pentus had improved their times just beforehand, but logically those times didn't count. So Sten Pentus held onto his lead to finish first ahead of Mikhail Aleshin and Alexander Rossi.
Sten Pentus: "It's feels good to be on this track with a car that I'm perfectly comfortable with now. The new surface here is very effective. I know I can go fast now, so I just have to concentrate and apply myself to getting everything right in qualifying."
Stefano Coletti: "The first few laps weren't easy, there was no grip at all. The name of the game was to stay on the track. By the end of the session, it was fine though. The session got stopped as we were improving on our best time. It's a pity, because I could have been first or second I think. Now we have to be patient for 48 hours before qualifying. It's a long wait, and that breaks up the rhythm a little, but I have an advantage over the others, because I can go home in the meantime!"
Alexander Rossi: "I already know the ISR team very well, because I was racing in Formula Master with them last season. That allows me to work in a familiar environment and it's helping me progress quickly. The first few laps of this circuit are just crazy! It took me a few laps to work out how things work. I find this car really effective and fairly easy to drive. I enjoyed this session and I'm looking forward to Saturday."