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GP2 - Spielberg, FP: Russell headlines Free Practice in Austria

British driver sets quickest time in first fifteen minutes

29 June 2018 - 14h14, by Olivier Ferret 

ART Grand Prix’s George Russell opened the FIA Formula 2 Championship round at Spielberg, Austria with the quickest time in Free Practice, setting a 1:14.159 in the first 15 minutes of the session to spend the majority of the running in first place. DAMS’ Alexander Albon slotted into second place, missing out on Russell’s time by two tenths as Roberto Merhi (MP Motorsport) took third.

On a fully-dry circuit after rain had fallen earlier in the day, Jack Aitken (ART) was first onto the track – quickly followed by compatriots Russell and Lando Norris (Carlin). The first few drivers opened the session with reconnaissance laps, leaving Santino Ferrucci to set the first hot lap. Bringing the pace into the 1m16s, Aitken dumped the American driver out of top spot before Ferrucci reclaimed the early advantage.

Albon then thrust his way past Ferrucci’s benchmark by over half a second, before Norris became the first man to break into the 1m14s. Control over the session then began to change hands multiple times; Nyck de Vries (PERTAMINA PREMA Theodore Racing) pipped Norris for top spot, before Sergio Sette Camara (Carlin) burst past the Dutchman to lead the way. The trio were then put in the shade by Russell, who pumped in the best time of the session at the 15-minute mark to lead proceedings.

Russell’s lap was under fire from Albon, but the Thai driver couldn’t surpass his championship rival despite a session-best middle sector. Looking to cement his advantage ahead of the pack, Russell began to go even quicker, but ran wide at the penultimate corner and was ultimately unable to improve.

The timing boards remained stagnant thereafter as the focus switched to race pace, with further drivers getting caught out on the final sector; Artem Markelov (RUSSIAN TIME) hopping over the kerb and briefly becoming airborne, while Aitken was a frequent visitor to the run-off. In the final ten minutes, Nirei Fukuzumi (BWT Arden) came to a stop on the exit of Turn 4, prompting a virtual safety car period which ended any hopes of further improvement from the drivers – Russell remaining at the top of the session.

Albon and Merhi beat Sette Camara to the top three, as de Vries completed the session fifth ahead of Norris and Antonio Fuoco of Charouz Racing System. Markelov was eighth quickest, with Aitken and BWT Arden’s Maximilian Gunther completing the top ten.

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