Tech 1's Daniel Ricciardo edged out his Formula Renault 3.5 title adversary Mikhail Aleshin by 0.454 seconds in the second free practice session at Barcelona on Friday
The Red Bull Formula 1 reserve driver enters this final round of the season just three points behind Carlin's Aleshin, with a potential 30 points on offer over the weekend.
"I think it is a good margin," said Ricciardo, "but I am never entirely satisfied when I know there is more time in the car; even though sometimes it is very difficult to extract it.
"This morning we were on very old tyres and I was worried that I wasn't learning anything. But [team boss] Simon [Abadie] kept saying to me, 'don't worry, the car will feel different on new tyres, we have to work for the weekend.' He was right, but at the time I was getting a bit excited."
Monegasque Stefano Coletti was third fastest for Comtec, while Junior Lotus Racing's Nelson Panciatici repeated his competitive showing from the morning to take fourth.
The opening session pacesetter, and final championship contender, Esteban Guerrieri finished fifth for ISR, but remained optimistic over his prospects.
"The car is good on high downforce," said Guerrieri. "We had one lap on new tyres and found a good balance, and usually when the balance is good we go well. There were a few things we wanted to try with the low downforce set-up in the afternoon, but unfortunately because there were so many red flags we didn't get a chance to do everything. Still, running on used tyres, I was quite happy with the time.
"I am not spending time worrying about pressure, or my rivals, that's just wasted energy. However, I am not stupid and I like to keep an eye on the others just for reference. That is not anything special or because it is the last race, though, I do that throughout the season. This weekend we have to go for it. It is like any sport, you have to push if you want to develop."
Formula 2 champion Dean Stoneman used high downforce to end the afternoon 10th, an excellent adaption to the category on his debut appearance.
"Because the Formula 2 car is turbocharged, you need to spool up the turbo before the corner," explained Stoneman, who is driving for Junior Lotus this weekend. "With this car, I have found I am up picking up the throttle too early, and then it is actually costing me more time down the straight as I have had to back off. The car also has so much aero that I am still exploring how much to push in the corners.
"But I've only driven it for an hour and half now. I drove the car in Pembrey before coming here, but it wasn't even a shakedown, it was just learning how to pull away and make sure I was comfortable.
"I am pleased to be here before doing the Williams F1 test [in Abu Dhabi]. I am going to Abu Dhabi next week to race in a three-day Radical Festival. At least then I will have some experience of the circuit, although of course I am sure it is going to be very different in the Formula 1 car."
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Daniel Ricciardo Tech 1 1m34.896s 2. Mikhail Aleshin Carlin 1m35.350s + 0.454s 3. Stefano Coletti Comtec 1m35.409s + 0.513s 4. Nelson Panciatici Junior Lotus 1m35.517s + 0.621s 5. Esteban Guerrieri ISR 1m35.674s + 0.778s 6. Daniel Zampieri Pons 1m35.675s + 0.779s 7. Nathanael Berthon Draco 1m35.685s + 0.789s 8. Julian Leal Draco 1m35.858s + 0.962s 9. Jon Lancaster Fortec 1m35.892s + 0.996s 10. Dean Stoneman Junior Lotus 1m35.918s + 1.022s 11. Anton Nebylitskiy KMP 1m36.226s + 1.330s 12. Albert Costa Epsilon Euskadi 1m36.335s + 1.439s 13. Sten Pentus Fortec 1m36.337s + 1.441s 14. Jan Charouz P1 1m36.523s + 1.627s 15. Filip Salaquarda ISR 1m36.565s + 1.669s 16. Walter Grubmuller P1 1m36.713s + 1.817s 17. Salvador Duran FHV Interwetten 1m36.714s + 1.818s 18. Federico Leo Pons 1m36.843s + 1.947s 19. Victor Garcia KMP 1m36.890s + 1.994s 20. Jake Rosenzweig Carlin 1m37.011s + 2.115s 21. Greg Mansell Comtec 1m37.088s + 2.192s 22. Keisuke Kunimoto Epsilon Euskadi 1m37.093s + 2.197s 23. Sergio Canamasas FHV Interwetten 1m37.524s + 2.628s
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