Jüri Vips became the driver to beat in the opening session in Le Castellet, clocking in a 1:46.501 to go over a tenth and a half clear of the pack in Free Practice. Ayumu Iwasa secured the second fastest time ahead of home hero Théo Pourchaire.

Although there are 167 different configurations of the Circuit Paul Ricard, the 22-car field thankfully only had to set about finding the limit of one during the Championship’s first foray around the French track since 2019. However, that task was easier said than done as thermal tyre degradation left their rear wheels squealing for traction.

Dennis Hauger got things underway with the first representative lap being laid down moments before Frederik Vesti brought a quick pause to proceedings. The Dane had already experienced a delayed start to his running, and shortly after getting out on track he came to a stop on the Mistral Straight.

Once the black and white ART Grand Prix was cleared the field wasted no time in setting purple sectors up and down the timing screens. Liam Lawson initially went fastest, before being quickly displaced by Championship leader Felipe Drugovich. While he locked in a 1:47.551, the MP Motorsport driver’s nearest title rival Logan Sargeant found himself skidding off at Turn 11.

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Jack Doohan then launched himself into P1, going 0.412s clear of Drugovich. As times edged ever lower, Vips and Iwasa traded turns at the top of the timing sheets with the DAMS’ driver becoming the first car to break into the 1:46 barrier.

With 20 minutes of the crucial 45-minute session remaining, Pourchaire set about pipping Iwasa to the fastest time. Despite the field utilising the white-walled Pirelli hard compound, keeping the tyres in their performance window proved a challenge, especially in the final sector which saw several animated moments of oversteer. Even the leading Frenchman wasn’t immune to errors, as Pourchaire went wide and scuffed up his tyres.

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As Practice entered its final phase, Vips once again returned to the top of the order with a 1:46.575, but the Hitech Grand Prix driver’s time continued to fall. A late Virtual Safety Car was deployed for Hauger, as the PREMA Racing driver came to a halt on the start-finish straight, which was cleared with two minutes remaining.

Nevertheless, with the mercury climbing to 49.5°, it was clear that temperatures were going to wreak havoc on tyre performance and nobody could get closer to the Estonian driver than Iwasa, who finished the session 0.166s adrift.