Theo Pourchaire claimed a dominant pole position for the opening Formula 2 Feature Race of the year on Sunday after setting the fastest lap time through qualifying in Bahrain.
The runner-up from last season’s championship led the way from start to finish during the 30-minute session to lay down an emphatic marker ahead of the new campaign.
Although the Sauber Academy driver’s initial effort would have been enough for him to stay on top, Pourchaire’s improved further during the final runs to take the first pole of 2023 by the staggeringly huge margin of 0.751s.
That deficit was held over Victor Martins as the newcomer slotted impressively into second in his debut F2 qualifying to complete an ART 1-2 under the lights.
All of the 20 drivers immediately ventured out onto the track at the start of the session, requiring two warm-up laps to build up critical tyre and brake temperature.
The returning Ralph Boschung was the first driver to register a competitive lap time and the Dutch driver remained at the top of the pile with a 1:42.010s as the times came piling through.
However, Pourchaire, who topped the sole practice session earlier, blitzed all three sectors to then go 0.480s quicker than Boschung’s previous benchmark. The Campos driver was a further three-tenths ahead of Dennis Hauger in third.
As the drivers cooled their tyres and went again for a second push lap many found improvement hard to come by.
Nevertheless, the rookie duo of Victor Martins and Arthur Leclerc did manage to prop up the order to sit third and fourth respectively at the halfway stage of proceedings.
With the track continuing to evolve, the times rapidly came down. But nobody was able to get within touching distance of Pourchaire’s rapid-fire lap from the first runs.
Boschung’s failure to set a new personal best time allowed several drivers to leapfrog him on the timesheets and he eventually dropped down the order from a provisional front row to P10.
Richard Verschoor impressed to deliver third for Van Amersfoort Racing, while Hauger managed fourth for the reigning champions, MP Motorsport.
Meanwhile, Mercedes junior Frederik Vesti was fifth, with Kush Maini sixth in his maiden F2 qualifying outing. Next came the two DAMS drivers, as Ayumu Iwasa recovered from a poor start to the session to narrowly out-qualify his rookie partner, Leclerc.
Roman Stanek and Boschung rounded out the top 10 – the Campos driver taking solace in holding on to be assured of starting at the front for tomorrow’s shorter Sprint event.
Despite his route to pole position being secure by the time he was conducting his final run, Pourchaire proceeded to go a blistering six-tenths faster than his previous fastest time.
ART team-mate Martins followed him up on the road and in the timing sheets to end up on the front row – but still 0.751s slower than his more experienced team-mate.
Jack Doohan, one of the inform drivers during the latter stages of last year had preferred to run an alternative strategy by utilising a clear track and he initially succeeded in elevating himself up to fourth.
However, the Australian ended up a massively disappointing 17th by the time the chequered flag dropped as others made use of the better track conditions at the end.
The opening Sprint Race of the year will take place tomorrow at 16:15 local time.
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