British Formula 3’s  Kevin Magnussen and F3 Euroseries’ Roberto Merhi both took turns at the top of the time-sheets in highly contrasting and challenging practice sessions at the prestigious Spa-Francorchamps circuit ahead of the biggest event of the 2011 Formula 3 calendar.

The Cooper Tyres British F3 International Series, F3 Euroseries and the FIA Formula 3 International Trophy competitors are set to go toe-to-toe at the Grand Prix track in a trio of races this weekend, bolstered by a bumper field of 29 cars and also boasting live television coverage. The Carlin, Fortec, Sino Vision and T-Sport teams are all fielding their regular line-ups for the event with hopes to beat the invitational runners. As a result the weekend features the majority of the British Formula 3 grid, including dominant championship leader Felipe Nasr and rivals Kevin Magnussen, William Buller and Lucas Foresti – even 2007 British F3 champion Marko Asmer is making a one-off return with Double-R Racing, alongside Scott Pye and Pipo Derani.

F3 Euroseries’ runaway leader Roberto Merhi also aims to be a strong presence on the grid, as do rivals Marco Wittmann and Laurens Vanthoor. Prema Powerteam and Signature are both fielding their regular squads to make the biggest impact for their invitational appearance in Belgium.

As the weekend’s preparations got underway in the dry morning session, Carlin’s Kevin Magnussen put in a strong performance to top the times – his quickest lap a tenth faster than 2010’s pole position time. Felipe Nasr was 2nd quickest, but over half a second slower than his team-mate. Prema’s Roberto Merhi was edged by the Brazilian by 3 hundredths of a second. Carlin driver and Nürburgring winner Jack Harvey was 4th fastest in the dry ahead of Prema’s Raffaele Marciello.

In typical Spa style however, the skies weren’t clear for long. A heavy Ardennes downpour soaked the track in time for the afternoon session, making the already intimidating circuit a fearsome prospect for the young drivers. Roberto Merhi never looked fazed though, and quickly set about blitzing the times with a 2:40.491 – over 1 and a half seconds quicker than nearest challenger and Euroseries rival, Laurens Vanthoor. Dutch invitational driver Hannes van Asseldonk driving for the Van Amersfoort Racing team was 3rd quickest in the soaking conditions, while Kevin Magnussen was the fastest of the British F3 runners in 4th, followed a surprise British F3 cohort, Sino Vision’s Adderly Fong.

The difficult conditions did prove too much for some. Prema Powerteam runner and F3 Euroseries race winner Daniel Juncadella brought out the red flags after going off at Les Combes. Carlin’s Rupert Svendsen-Cook was luckier, as he continued after a spin at Fagnes. Soon afterwards however, Jazeman Jaafar ended his running as well as the session after hitting the tyres at the same corner, bringing out another red flag and ending all Thursday running.

Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series
Official testing, Spa-Francorchamps BEL / 28/7/2011

International & Invitation classes (AM/PM times)
1  INT Kevin MAGNUSSEN / DEN,  Carlin Dallara-VW  2m 14.299s / 2m 43.925s
2  INT Felipe NASR / BRA,  Carlin Dallara-VW  2m 14.942s / 2m 45.099s
3  INV Robert MERHI / ESP,  Prema Dallara-Mercedes  2m 14.949s / 2m 40.491s
4  INT Jack HARVEY / GBR,  Carlin Dallara-VW  2m 15.264s / 2m 48.835s
5  INV Raffaele MARCIELLO / ITA,  Prema Dallara-Mercedes  2m 15.438s / 2m 49.723s
6  INT Jazeman JAAFAR / MAS,  Carlin Dallara-VW  2m 15.443s / 2m 50.064s
7  INT Carlos HUERTAS / COL,  Carlin Dallara-VW  2m 15.517s / 2m 58.236s
8  INT Rupert SVENDSEN-COOK / GBR,  Carlin Dallara-VW  2m 15.916s / 2m 50.702s
9  INV Laurens VANTHOOR / BEL,  Signature Dallara-VW  2m 15.924s / 2m 42.028s
10  INV Carlos MUNOZ / COL,  Signature Dallara-VW  2m 15.938s / 2m 49.244s
11  INV Marko ASMER / EST, Double R Dallara-Mercedes  2m 15.938s / no time
12  INT Pietro FANTIN / BRA,  Hitech Dallara-VW  2m 16.016s / no time
13  INV Marco WITTMANN / GER,  Signature Dallara-VW  2m 16.184s / 2m 49.990s
14  INV Hannes van ASSELDONK / NED,  Van Amersfoort D-VW  2m 16.399s / 2m 43.612s
15  INT Menasheh IDAFAR / GBR,  T-Sport Dallara-VW  2m 16.431s / 3m 06.728s etc

Rookie class
1  Kotaro SAKURAI / JPN,  Hitech Dallara-Mugen Honda  2m 19.358s / 3m 03.891s

Full timesheets