Formula 2 championship leader Charles Leclerc edged out Oliver Rowland at the top of the timesheet in practice ahead of the 10th and penultimate round of the season at Jerez.
Heading into the weekend with a 59 point advantage over closest rival Rowland, Leclerc is widely tipped to seal the championship crown over the coming days. His pace in practice served to enhance the expectation.
Clear skies greeted the drivers at the green light to signal the start of the 45-minute session.
The DAMS duo of Rowland and Nicholas Latifi were among the first to set representative lap times. Championship hopeful Rowland managed to top the timesheet after the opening runs, with Charles Leclerc a slender 0.063 seconds adrift.
A red flag was deployed just ten minutes into the session after Ralph Boschung’s Campos stopped on track at Turn 10. Boschung was yet to post a representative lap time and was therefore condemned to finishing at the foot of the practice timesheet.
With eight minutes of the session lost to the stoppage, track activity resumed in frenetic fashion.
On his second attempt, Leclerc toppled Rowland to take over at the head of the order, posting a 1m25.452s. He lowered the benchmark by a further two tenths on his second timed lap.
As drivers settled into their race performance runs for the final 15 minutes of the session, the timesheet remained static; Leclerc on top with Rowland in second.
Racing Engineering’s Nyck de Vries finished third, but over four tenths adrift of Leclerc’s time. Despite being one of the few drivers unable to post a representative time prior to the red flag, Sergio Sette Camara finished the morning session in fourth.
Demonstrating the competitiveness of the field, just 0.05 seconds separated the next four cars on the timesheet. Latifi ended the session fifth, followed by Nobuharu Matsushita, Norman Nato and Alexander Albon.
Meanwhile, Russian Time endured a difficult morning with Artem Markelov – currently third in the championship standings – finishing 10th, while team-mate Luca Ghiotto struggled to 12th spot.
Making his F2 debut with Campos this weekend, Alex Palou finished in 16th. He finished ahead of fellow F2 newcomer Rene Binder, who has replaced Roberto Merhi at Rapax this weekend.