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F1 Academy: Abbi Pulling and Bianca Bustamante share fastest lap in Barcelona FP1

Abbi Pulling led a tightly contested sole practice session at Circuit de Catalunya, with Bianca Bustamante matching the fastest time, ahead of Hamda Al Qubaisi - as drivers prepared for the afternoon qualifying session.


Abbi Pulling, Rodin Motorsport, F1 Academy, 2024 Barcelona Spanish GP
Photo credits: James Gasperotti

F1 Academy returned to action after over a month-long break from the Miami GP, heading back to Europe for one of only two rounds on continental soil.


At Circuit de Catalunya, which also hosted pre-season testing, championship leader Abbi Pulling led the first session of the weekend with a 1:42.474 time, perfectly matched by McLaren junior Bianca Bustamante.


Tyre wear at the 4.675 km Catalan circuit is set to play a major role, so teams opted to go out relatively late and then focused on longer runs towards the end of the session.


Cars headed off on track for the sole practice session of the weekend, as running time had again been reduced to one 40-minute practice after two sessions were contested in Miami. The field featured 15 cars for the first time this year, with no wild cards announced for the Catalan round.


After a rainy Thursday, the sun was back out on Friday morning, and it was Doriane Pin who set the first timed lap, as the Frenchwoman returned behind the wheel after having missed a FRECA round and the 24 Hours of Le Mans due to a rib cage injury.


Holding on to one single set of tyres for FP1, Prema cars set their first times 10 minutes into the session. Chloe Chambers, who has been one of the protagonists of the first rounds of the season, soon took the top of the timings, before Bianca Bustamante became the first driver to go under the 1m43 mark, then topped by home hero Nerea Marti.


Times dropped fast, and Hamda Al Qubaisi was the new leader mid-way through the session, with a record third sector. With the fastest first and second sectors, though, Alpine junior and fresh British F4 race winner Abbi Pulling set the new benchmark at 1:42.687, two-tenths ahead of Al Qubaisi and Marti in a session that saw ten cars within one second. Carrie Schreiner also showed good speed early on in the session, breaking into the top 6.


Everyone pitted with 15 minutes to go, but action was prolific in the final 10 minutes, although drivers couldn't quite improve on their lap times with tyres past their peak. Aurelia Nobels moved up into the top ten, and Bianca Bustamante matched Pulling's top time by thousandths of a second, although the British racer retained the lead having set the time first.


When the chequered flag fell, Pulling and Bustamante shared the best lap of the session, with Hamda Al Qubaisi a close third. After a very unlucky first two rounds of the season, hampered by several technical issues, the Emirati was back in the top three, preceding Nerea Marti and Lia Block, who had a strong session in fifth, three-tenths off the leader, having also contested a round in the Spanish F4 championship to maximize her track time.


Jessica Edgar also improved in the second half of the session to move up to sixth, ahead of Carrie Schreiner and Amna Al Qubaisi, who collected a race win at Circuit de Catalunya last year and is again looking fast at the home of the Spanish GP. Ferrari Driver Academy racer Aurelia Nobels was ninth, preceding Mercedes junior star Doriane Pin, tenth on her return behind the wheel from the injury and leading the Prema squad.


Within one second, Chloe Chambers was eleventh fastest and will be working on setup ahead of qualifying to return to the front-running positions, having also had her best lap time deleted. Tina Hausmann and Maya Weug were also just outside the top ten, ahead of MP Motorsport's Emely de Heus, who claimed her first pole position and race victory in single-seaters at Barcelona in 2023. The Dutchwoman used the calendar break in the F1 Academy schedule to contest two rounds in EuroCup-3, showing great pace in the Formula Regional machinery.


Lola Lovinfosse, who returns behind the wheel of her Rodin Motorsport-operated and Charlotte Tilbury-sponsored F4 car after a wrist fracture at Miami, rounded out the FP1 classification.


The qualifying session is set to get underway this afternoon at 18:30 local time, with the fastest laps setting the grid for race 1 on Saturday, while the second-best times will shape the starting order for Sunday's race.

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