Jean-Eric Vergne beats Formula Renault 3.5 title rival Robert Wickens in first Paul Ricard practice

Carlin's Jean-Eric Vergne boosted his ambitions of overhauling team-mate Robert Wickens in the Formula Renault 3.5 title race by setting a blistering pace in the opening free practice session at Paul Ricard

Entering this penultimate round of the championship, six drivers have a mathematical chance of winning the championship. Wickens' double victory at the last meeting at Silverstone in August has moved him a solid 34 points clear of Vergne at the head of the drivers' standings, but the Canadian trailed Vergne by 0.673 seconds in this morning's session.

"It is only free practice so the times don't mean too much, and perhaps we were running different set-ups," said Vergne. "Losing at Silverstone makes me really hungry and angry as well.

"I really don't think too much about the championship, just about winning this race. Winter testing didn't go that well for us here, and actually this is going to be my first race at Paul Ricard."

A decision on Carlin's appeal against Vergne's penalty for maintaining position by cutting a chicane at Monza in May is due to be announced this weekend, and could affect the points situation.

After previous visits to Le Mans and Magny-Cours, the French round of the World Series by Renault package is visiting Le Castellet for the maiden time. However, teams have extensive knowledge of the track as it used regularly for winter testing.

Epic Racing's Albert Costa ended the morning third fastest, ahead of P1 Racing's Daniil Move.

Costa, Tech 1 Racing's Kevin Korjus and Fortec's Alexander Rossi will be aiming to steal HRT Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo's current third place in the championship.

Ricciardo, who finished down in 17th for ISR this morning, is making his final scheduled appearance in the series as he will skip the Barcelona finale to contest the clashing Japanese Grand Prix.

A late effort from Brendon Hartley (Gravity-Charouz) moved the Kiwi ahead of Costa's Epic Racing team-mate Sten Pentus into fifth.

Pos  Driver             Team             Time       Gap
 1.  Jean-Eric Vergne   Carlin           1m52.469s
 2.  Robert Wickens     Carlin           1m53.142s  + 0.673s
 3.  Albert Costa       Epic             1m53.368s  + 0.899s
 4.  Daniil Move        P1               1m53.378s  + 0.909s
 5.  Brendon Hartley    Gravity-Charouz  1m53.443s  + 0.974s
 6.  Sten Pentus        Epic             1m53.491s  + 1.022s
 7.  Kevin Korjus       Tech 1           1m53.533s  + 1.064s
 8.  Nelson Panciatici  KMP              1m53.565s  + 1.096s
 9.  Stephane Richelmi  Draco            1m53.828s  + 1.359s
10.  Cesar Ramos        Fortec           1m54.059s  + 1.590s
11.  Jan Charouz        Gravity-Charouz  1m54.061s  + 1.592s
12.  Alexander Rossi    Fortec           1m54.096s  + 1.627s
13.  Daniel de Jong     Comtec           1m54.102s  + 1.633s
14.  Daniel McKenzie    Comtec           1m54.152s  + 1.683s
15.  Sergio Canamasas   BVM Target       1m54.235s  + 1.766s
16.  Walter Grubmuller  P1               1m54.285s  + 1.816s
17.  Daniel Ricciardo   ISR              1m54.465s  + 1.996s
18.  Nick Yelloly       Pons             1m54.588s  + 2.119s
19.  Nathanael Berthon  ISR              1m54.742s  + 2.273s
20.  Daniel Zampieri    BVM Target       1m54.789s  + 2.320s
21.  Andre Negrao       Draco            1m54.809s  + 2.340s
22.  Jake Rosenzweig    Mofaz            1m54.886s  + 2.417s
23.  Oliver Webb        Pons             1m55.412s  + 2.943s
24.  Arthur Pic         Tech 1           1m55.687s  + 3.218s
25.  Fairuz Fauzy       Mofaz            1m55.731s  + 3.262s
26.  Anton Nebylitskiy  KMP              1m56.312s  + 3.843s

Why new Renault 3.5 could be an F1 star-maker

Robert Wickens in front in second Formula Renault 3.5 session at Paul Ricard