James Walker negotiated a heavily congested Monte Carlo track to set the fastest time in Formula Renault 3.5 free practice this morning.
With a capacity entry of 26 cars for the first time this year, traffic frustrations were a common complaint among drivers. The problem will be alleviated for qualifying on Saturday morning, where the session will be split into two groups.
Taking part in his final confirmed race with reigning teams' champions Tech 1 Racing, Red Bull Formula 1 reserve driver Brendon Hartley put in a superb late effort to finish one tenth of a second shy of Walker's 1m28.920s benchmark. The Kiwi was relieved to finish as top rookie after a troubled start to his World Series and Formula 3 Euro Series campaigns.
Walker's P1 Motorsport team-mate Daniil Move was third fastest, and was hugely satisfied with his improved form after non-qualifying on his first visit to Monaco in 2007.
"In the last years I couldn't sleep before qualifying as I was so scared," he said. "It was so difficult to drive between the walls. Today it was easy, well not easy, but it felt normal."
Interwetten's Adrian Zaugg was fourth, while both Jaime Alguersuari (Carlin) and his compatriot Miguel Molina (Ultimate) took turns at the top of the timing screens through the course of the 45 minute session before being bumped down to eventual fifth and sixth places.
Of the five newcomers to the championships, Filip Salaquarda in 17th was the highest-placed and least troubled. The RC Motorsport driver took advantage of starting on new rubber and held the fastest time in the middle of the session.
Past champion team Comtec was in the difficult position of fielding two debutants. Ex-A1GP racer John Martin survived a close call after running down the escape road at Mirabeau, while team-mate Max Chilton was less fortunate, suffering gearbox actuator gremlins that limited his running.
Former Comtec driver Anton Nebylitskiy crashed his new SG Formula mount at Sainte Devote. F3 Euro Series ace Jules Bianchi had a clutch problem on the sister SG machine.
Monegasque Euro F3 star Stefano Coletti kept Nebylitskiy in company in the Sainte Devote tyre wall. A light impact knocked the rear wing off his Prema car, until then Coletti had been making strong progress.
Draco's Marco Barba propped up the timesheets, having found the tyre barrier at Mirabeau on his first flying lap.
Pos Driver Team Time
1. James Walker P1 1m28.290s
2. Brendon Hartley Tech 1 1m28.357s + 0.067s
3. Daniil Move P1 1m28.480s + 0.190s
4. Adrian Zaugg Interwetten 1m28.510s + 0.220s
5. Jaime Alguersuari Carlin 1m28.538s + 0.248s
6. Miguel Molina Ultimate 1m28.717s + 0.427s
7. Marcos Martinez Pons 1m28.822s + 0.532s
8. Charles Pic Tech 1 1m29.008s + 0.718s
9. Sten Pentus Fortec 1m29.100s + 0.810s
10. Bertrand Baguette Draco 1m29.283s + 0.993s
11. Fairuz Fauzy Fortec 1m29.287s + 0.997s
12. Oliver Turvey Carlin 1m29.423s + 1.133s
13. Chris van der Drift Epsilon 1m29.525s + 1.235s
14. Adrian Valles Epsilon 1m29.548s + 1.258s
15. Pasquale Di Sabatino RC 1m29.662s + 1.372s
16. Greg Mansell Ultimate 1m29.683s + 1.393s
17. Filip Salaquarda RC 1m29.768s + 1.478s
18. Julian Leal Prema 1m30.025s + 1.735s
19. John Martin Comtec 1m30.114s + 1.824s
20. Federico Leo Pons 1m30.865s + 2.575s
21. Mihai Marinescu Interwetten 1m31.240s + 2.950s
22. Stefano Coletti Prema 1m31.703s + 3.413s
23. Anton Nebylitskiy SG 1m34.563s + 6.273s
24. Max Chilton Comtec 1m39.465s + 11.175s
25. Jules Bianchi SG 1m40.926s + 12.636s
26. Marco Barba Draco 1m50.651s + 22.361s