Gabriele Minì made the most of a drying Monte Carlo circuit to head the field in Formula 3’s first session around the Principality. The Hitech Pulse-Eight driver put his previous experience to good use, clocking in a 1:26.686 in the final jam-packed seconds of Free Practice.

Fellow returnees Franco Colapinto and Grégoire Saucy benefited from a late switch to slicks to finish second and third, over two-tenths down on the Italian’s best effort.

A heavy downpour ahead of the session threw a curveball the drivers’ way, making the challenge of learning the new track even more difficult. Campos Racing’s Christian Mansell was the first to get a representative time on the board with a 1:45.249, but times continued to tumble with every lap of the 3.337km circuit.

The Hitech Pulse-Eight duo of Sebastián Montoya and Luke Browning and MP Motorsport’s Colapinto traded the top times inside the opening 15 minutes, before Josep María Martí broke into the 1:40s for the first time.

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Although a dry line had begun to form, there were still plenty of areas to catch the field out. Championship leader Gabriel Bortoleto reacted sharply to keep his #5 Trident out of the barriers, while Hugh Barter touched the wall after going in too deep at Turn 5.

Browning brought the time to beat down to a 1:39.879 before the Red Flag appeared. A spin for Jonny Edgar left the British racer facing the wrong way and his car in need of recovery.

When the action resumed, Caio Collet wasted no time posting a 1:38.5s to assume the top spot before Leonardo Fornaroli set the benchmark at 1:37.334.

PREMA Racing’s Paul Aron went too deep into the Turn 6 hairpin, followed by Browning a few laps later, leaving the British racer with a damaged front wing and a momentary Virtual Safety Car.

With the track at its driest in the closing stages, Colapinto stormed five seconds clear in P1, despite a snap of oversteer out of the final corner. The late frenzy of activity left several drivers facing traffic ahead, but Minì managed to squeeze his way through to snatch P1 at the chequered flag.

Split-group Qualifying is set to get underway on Friday. Group A will get the session underway at 11:10 local time, followed by Group B at 11:34.