Hitech Grand Prix’s Jüri Vips topped practice for Round 9 of the FIA Formula 2 Championship at a roasting hot Paul Ricard Circuit in France, heading DAMS’ Ayumu Iwasa.
Vips’ 1:46.501 set the benchmark for the session, the Estonian hoping that he can add to his pole positions in Imola and Baku later in the day.
In a session with drivers struggling to control tyre temperatures, Vips and Iwasa appeared to have the car and light-touch to keep their hard compound Pirelli rubber in good shape right to the end of the session, as they set their fastest laps in the final minutes of the session.
This marked the first time Vips had topped a session since being dropped as the Red Bull reserve and test driver following his use of racist language in June.
Championship leader Felipe Drugovich had a quiet session, but saved his best until last and was fourth fastest, while the man in-form Logan Sargeant caught the attention of everyone with a spin and one other off-track moment on his way to ninth quickest.
ART Grand Prix had an interesting session as first Frederick Vesti stopped on track, having been late out of the pit lane, while Frenchman Théo Pourchaire set the third fastest time, before stopping on track as the chequered flag dropped.
PREMA Racing also had both of their cars stop on track, first Dennis Hauger pulling off with three minutes remaining, then Jehan Daruvala stopping when attempting to perform a practice start after the session had finished.
The track temperature approached a scorching 50°c as the session concluded, but conditions are likely to more favourable in the evenings qualifying session, which begins at 18:30 CEST.
Story of the session
Practice for Round 9 of the 2022 FIA Formula 2 Championship begun with bright skies, with Logan Sargeant hoping to put down a marker to continue his recent strong form.
As the cars ventured out onto the track for the first time, the track temperature was already approaching 47 °c, put there were early delays for Austria’s pole winner, Frederick Vesti and disqualified Feature Race winner in Spielberg Richard Verschoor.
The Dane and Dutchman soon joined their rivals on track just under 10 minutes into the session, although there were soon more problems for Vesti, as the ART pulled off the track and brought out the Virtual Safety Car (VSC).
PREMA’s Dennis Hauger set the first meaningful lap time of a 1:48.557, though Felipe Drugovich, Liam Lawson, Richard Verschoor and Marcus Armstrong all went faster.
Logan Sargeant had a dramatic spin at Beausset, but he continued though his hard compound Pirelli tyres were now much worse for wear.
Jack Doohan set a string of purple first sectors and went fastest with 26 minutes remaining, despite the Virtuosi car looking a handful through the final sector.
Following his spin, Sargeant set 47.2 as Ayumu Iwasa lowered the benchmark to a 1:46.7, three tenths clear of Jüri Vips.
Many drivers were fighting their car through the final sector, the series of high-speed corners, with the rear-tyres heating up too much, as the track temperature ticked over 48°c.
Home favourite Théo Pourchaire gave ART something to smile about as he went 0.032s faster than DAMS’ Iwasa, to top the times with 20 minutes left of the session.
Doohan’s lively session continued as he corrected a rear-end slide in the penultimate corner and neatly scooped up his Dallara designed machine to enter the pit-lane, with no damage done.
First Iwasa and then Vips set new fastest times of the session, the Estonian driver moving just under a tenth clear of Japanese driver Iwasa, while New Zealander Liam Lawson had a spin.
Vips then extended his advantage to more than tenth of a second, just as Dennis Hauger pulled his PREMA off to the side of the pit straight with three minutes left of the session, causing a second VSC.
Sargeant produced a brilliant save as he lost the rear under braking for Turn 3, using lightning reactions to collect the car and return to the circuit.
On their final laps, Vips and Iwasa set the fastest first and second sectors respectively, but neither able to improve their time, as third placed Pourchaire spun and stopped on the outside of Turn 6, as the chequered flag fell with Vips at the top.
Image: Hitech GP