Trident’s Niko Kari set the standard in Round 2 of the FIA Formula 3 campaign, lapping the Circuit Paul Ricard fastest in Free Practice. His time of 1:51.305 was enough to put him ahead of Championship leader Robert Shwartzman and Hitech Grand Prix’s Leonardo Pulcini.

Fabio Scherer’s Sauber Junior Team by Charouz motor was the first car of the weekend to hit the dusty circuit in warm early morning conditions, as he got us underway in France. Richard Verschoor was the early pace setter though and would be the first to break the 2m mark, setting 1:57.876.

Barcelona Race 1 winner Shwartzman soon set about reminding the rest of the grid of his prowess and took the lead with 1:54.672. The Russian was closely followed by his PREMA teammate Marcus Armstrong, who was just 0.118s slower.

The Kiwi would quickly usurp his teammate and take his place in first, before Jehan Daruvala outdone them both and became the third PREMA man to top the timings. The trio continued to exchange places before Kari broke up the party and set the quickest time in 1m54s.

Max Fewtrell, Jüri Vips, Jake Hughes, Christian Lundgaard and Devlin DeFrancesco would all take turns in first as the times flew in and the grid evidenced the competition amongst them. Not to be outdone, Shwartzman toppled the lot and broke the 1m52s barrier to reclaim P1.

With two minutes remaining the Russian was sitting pretty at the top, having acclimatised himself to the track and the day’s conditions. Equally comfortable was Trident ace Kari, who went 0.594s faster and knocked Shwartzman off his perch.

Lundgaard would go wide in his attempts to join them at the front, leaving Kari in P1, followed closely by the Championship leader. Pulcini completed the front three and behind them it was Daruvala, Fewtrell, Piquet, Verschoor, Hughes, Felipe Drugovich and Armstrong.

Action will recommence this afternoon at 5.50pm local time, as the cars pit themselves against each other in what is sure to be an intense qualifying session.