On his return to MP Motorsport, Felipe Drugovich led a closely contested opening session of the season in Sakhir, with the top 13 all separated by less than one second. DAMS prevented an MP Motorsport one-two as Ayumu Iwasa and Roy Nissany went second and third with just seconds to go and dropped Clément Novalak to fourth.

Novalak had initially set the first laptime of the new Formula 2 season as the field battled to keep their cars on the ground in gusty conditions, with the Frenchman’s almost literal flying lap a steady 1:48.044.

Less than two weeks on from pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit, the grid had Liam Lawson’s benchmark time of 1:41.623 from the three-day event to try and match.

Novalak improved with his second tour of the track, but it was Jake Hughes who jumped to the summit, taking the time down to 1:45.294. He was followed by his teammate Amaury Cordeel as Van Amersfoort began their first F2 session in first and second.

Lawson’s first attempt at a flying lap put him second, although he remained nearly half a second off Hughes. Marcus Armstrong briefly jumped ahead of him for Hitech Grand Prix, but the Carlin driver’s second attempt was a stronger one and it put him in first place.

READ MORE: The Sakhir Race Pack

Iwasa jumped to second in the closing states of Free Practice
Iwasa jumped to second in the closing states of Free Practice

Lawson wasn’t there for long, though, as the flying laps began to drop. PREMA Racing’s Jehan Daruvala pushed Lawson down to second with the first sub-1m 45s time, before Armstrong jumped ahead of him too, the Hitech driver taking P2.

MP Motorsport then bumped Daruvala down to third as Drugovich went first ahead of Novalak, with the Brazilian racer slicing two tenths off the quickest time.

With less than three minutes left on the clock, DAMS were able to break up the MP one-two, as Ayumu Iwasa and Roy Nissany went second and third, ahead of Novalak.

Armstrong managed to climb back ahead of Daruvala in the closing stages to start his third F2 campaign in fifth place, with Lawson having fallen to seventh at the flag, ahead of his rookie Carlin teammate, Logan Sargeant.

Hughes managed to maintain his place in the top half off the grid, completing the top 10 behind Campos Racing’s Olli Caldwell.

The first points’ paying session of the season will begin at 7.30pm local time on the Bahrain International Circuit.