Although he ended the opening Free Practice session in seventh, Victor Martins is convinced that he and his ART Grand Prix team have the pace around Monza to be fighting up front in Qualifying later on Friday afternoon.

The Frenchman was firmly in the frontrunning pack throughout the 45-minute running, topping the table on several occasions in both the wet and drier conditions later on.

While Martins believes his final classification might not reflect his true performance, the continual improvements are a sign of the strong potential he’s looking to harness across the final weekend of the season.

“It was quite a calm session; I was really confident with the car. We started mainly under wet conditions, everyone was on wet tyres, so we did a few laps there and I was feeling really good with the car. I don’t think it will rain anymore this weekend, but at least we improved what we wanted to have on the car, and it felt awesome.

READ MORE: FREE PRACTICE: Bearman makes strong start at Monza

“The pace was always in the top two or P1 when I was crossing the line, so it was showing a strong pace and I was confident. Then we switched to slicks, we put them on quite early on, but we waited a bit for the track to improve and then it was the same, the pace was really strong always when I was finishing clean laps in P1.

“Just at the end, I had an issue with a guy in Sector 2 so I couldn’t finish the lap, but Sectors 1 and 3 were there. For sure, we have the pace we need to analyse. It’s still only Free Practice, but we are looking strong."

As a result of that ruined final attempt, Martins ended up 0.404s behind Oliver Bearman’s leading time, with three title protagonists holding the top three spots – including his nearest rivals Isack Hadjar in second.

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Whilst his rivals getting up to speed ahead of a crucial Qualifying session might have understandably rattled him, the Frenchman claims their pace doesn’t scare him in the slightest. He’s confident his results aren’t a fluke but acknowledges that repeating those same laps later on could prove to be more difficult a second time around.

“I’m not looking at the classification, I know my sectors and I know where I’m strong. It was all down to the last lap and I’m confident that we have the pace. I think if they look at the data and analyse, they will know that we have the pace so I’m not worried.

“I’m confident we know what we need to do for the car for Qualifying. Now that will be another thing, to do the lap in Quali and manage the traffic, but first to start the weekend like that is always a good, good thing."

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Formula 3 Qualifying in Monza is notorious for being extremely messy and tricky for the drivers to manage. Previous trips to the Italian circuit have shown how traffic can be make or break for their performances, with the 30-car field eager to both find room out on track whilst also attempting to take full advantage of the slipstream from the drivers ahead.

Nevertheless, Martins remains unphased. The ART driver believes that the key to securing another strong result will come from focus on his own performance and executing as cleaner laps as possible, rather than playing games with those around him.

“I think the key will be not to focus on anyone, not trying to get a tow. If I get one, I will take it but if not, at the beginning of the session I think the most important thing will be for me to do clean laps and get some feeling. Also, get some feedback to give to the team for the end of Quali and maybe to secure a really good lap time that could be good enough for the top five.

“In the end, we will see how the pace is before we put on the last set, and we will see if it’s worth taking the risk or not with the tow. I feel it will be something to manage during the session with the engineers on the radio, on the track and we will see, but I’m confident that we will be able to finish a good lap in the end.”