Testing will be an important fixture on the slim list of GP3 events in 2017, beginning with the opening pre-season test at the Circuito do Estoril on March 22-23.
This is the first of four tests between March and June alongside the eight rounds of the 2017 season which begins in Barcelona in May and concludes in Abu Dhabi in November.
Returning drivers such as Jack Aitken (ART Grand Prix) will step into the cockpit as they look to prepare for more race wins and podiums. Rookie drivers such as Bruno Baptista (DAMS) and Niko Kari (Arden) can start to set up their debut seasons.
Every racer on the grid will also be getting used to having the Drag Reduction System (DRS) on their cars ahead of the first use of the system in the 2017 campaign.
Dominant championship winners ART will be aiming for Teams’ title number seven, while its drivers are in some of the best positions for Drivers’ Championship competition.
In a one-chassis series, these preparations could find the favourites for the upcoming season if results follow similar patterns to years gone by.
Last season’s events involved Antonio Fuoco (Trident) leading two of the three days in Estoril before he went on to fight for the Drivers’ Championship and finish the season in third place.
Runner-up Alexander Albon and champion Charles Leclerc (both ART) finished near the bottom of the timesheets once and twice respectively but also featured in the top-six at specific moments of last year’s tests.
Championship challengers Luca Ghiotto (Trident), Marvin Kirchhofer and Esteban Ocon (both ART – Ocon pictured above) were all in the top-10 for the first day and a half at the Portuguese circuit, with just Ghiotto in the top-seven throughout both days.
Three years ago, eventual champion Alex Lynn (Carlin) was in the top-five during the morning and afternoon sessions of the first test in Estoril, claiming the fastest times in both sessions on the second day.
Runner-up Dean Stoneman (Marussia Manor) and third-placed Kirchhofer finished second and third on the timesheets at the end of the first day after being down the order in 17th and 18th after the morning events. The duo finished sixth (Stoneman) and 10th (Kirchhofer) at the end of the next day.
Daniil Kvyat (MW Arden) placed in the top-five throughout all three days of testing at the Portuguese track in 2013 before he went on to become the fourth champion.
His challengers Facu Regalia and Conor Daly (both ART) completed the opening afternoon session in ninth and 10th after not setting a time in the morning. Both drivers remained inside the top-16 with consistent performances amongst the 10 fastest drivers during the following two days.
Mitch Evans (MW Arden) topped the morning session of the first day before finishing behind Nico Muller (Trident) in the afternoon. The Kiwi remained in the top-10 during the second day during the preparations for his success.
Rivals Daniel Abt (Lotus GP, runner-up) and Antonio Felix da Costa (Carlin, third) remained in the top-14 for much of the running apart from Abt finishing the second afternoon down in 24th position.
Circuit Paul Ricard was the venue in 2011, with this being the year of the major anomaly of champions usually doing well. Eventual champion Valtteri Bottas (Lotus ART – pictured above) finished morning sessions at the track in 17th and 13th respectively, before sitting in eighth and 13th after afternoon sessions.
Then-runner-up James Calado (Lotus ART) showed his hand by finishing top of the timesheets on the afternoon of day one, with third-placed Nigel Melker (Mucke Motorsport) having his best finishing position of second in the timings on the morning of the final day. The duo also placed down the order at certain moments, with Calado and Melker finishing 18th and 20th after the first morning.
The series’ maiden champion, Esteban Gutierrez (ART), finished fastest at the end of the first day of testing in 2010 before placing 12th and second on the second day at the French track.
Robert Wickens (runner-up, Status GP) and Nico Muller (third, Jenzer Motorsport) spent time in the top-15 – then the top-half of the 30-driver grid – during these two days, with the anomaly involving Wickens lying down in 28th on the second morning.
Past years list a large number of drivers instantly impressing to set up foundations for success later in the year, although not necessarily at the very sharp end of the times.
The list of fastest drivers in 2017’s tests may include names to keep notes of during the season as the rounds pass by with others blending into the background.