SJM Prema Theodore Racing picked up from where they left off in the Formula 3 finale, as Marcus Armstrong laid down an early marker at the FIA F3 World Cup in Macau. The Kiwi topped British duo Jake Hughes and Dan Ticktum, with a searing time of 2:08.023.
Early morning 26-degree sunshine greeted the cars as they headed onto the Guia circuit for the first time. Most of the grid opted for an initial installation lap, before diving back into the pits, leaving just David Beckmann out on track to complete his first lap and test the conditions.
Fans were treated to a throwback in the opening exchanges, as the duo with famous surnames, Enzo Fittipaldi and David Schumacher, topped the timesheets. Richard Verschoor and Leonardo Pulcini quickly got the better of them though, before two-time Macau winner Ticktum flexed his muscles, to round the Guia Circuit seven tenths faster.
PREMA gave a glimmer of their potential at the halfway mark when the 2019 F3 Champion Robert Shwartzman leapt from the lower positons and into second, just three-tenths shy of Ticktum.
Any progress was brought to a half with the introduction of a Virtual Safety Car, as Yuki Tsunoda discovered the difficulties of the daunting street circuit. The Red Bull junior braked late as he headed up the hill and towards the Hospital Bend, which forced him into the barriers and tore off his front-wing.
This provided the grid with an opportunity to dive back into the pits, before Hughes returned to take control of the session. The HWA RACELAB man took the times beneath 2m 10s, ahead of fellow Brits Callum Ilott and Ticktum.
With under a minute to go, the times tumbled further and Armstrong displayed the skills he had learned from tackling the track last year. The Kiwi set purple sectors 2 and 3 on his way to breaking the 2m 8s barrier, which Hughes and Ticktum were unable to match, despite beating their own times.
Shwartzman, Verschoor, Ilott, Frederik Vesti, Enaam Ahmed, Logan Sargeant and Christian Lundgaard completed the top ten in the opening session.
The field will now enjoy a breather before heading back out onto the track for the first Qualifying session at 2.30pm (local time).