Despite being among the unlikely combinations anyone would expect to see at the head of a Formula One timesheet after three rounds of the 2009 season, Lewis Hamilton, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica duly gave their beleaguered teams a shot of optimism in opening practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Friday's results are often derided as not providing an accurate guide to the rest of the weekend, and the paddock will wait to see whether McLaren and BMW Sauber feature among the threats for victory in Sakhir, but Hamilton topped the times by lapping nearly three tenths quicker than Heidfeld, with Kubica all but matching his team-mate for pace having returned to using the KERS system on his F1.09.
Hamilton's time came early in the 90-minute session, and was barely troubled for the remainder, suggesting that McLaren may have been chasing a low fuel set-up from the outset. The best of the rest, in fourth place, was regular session-topper Nico Rosberg, the Williams driving lapping in 1min 43.227secs compared to Hamilton's 1min 33.647secs effort. Championship leader Jenson Button was fifth fastest, a further couple of tenths adrift of Rosberg.
Intriguingly, Hamilton was reported to be running the older specification of McLaren front wing, not the update he took into the points in China last weekend, while team-mate Heikki Kovalainen used the development part to see if he could get more comfortable with it after struggling in Shanghai. The Finn ended the session sixth overall, 0.855secs off his team-mate, while Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa, Mark Webber and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top ten.
As usual in the sandy surroundings, the session took a while to get up to speed, with only a handful of installation laps being recorded in the first half hour. Sebastien Bourdais was the first to blink thereafter, the under-fire Toro Rosso driver posting the first flying effort to set the ball rolling for everyone else. Bourdais did not remain at the head of the times for long, with Hamilton and Raikkonen both taking early shots at P1, but not before the Finn had had a narrow escape.
Before setting his timed lap, Raikkonen had his Ferrari snap out of shape entering turn two, spitting itself off track and perilously close to the end of a tyre wall protecting the snatch vehicles. Undaunted, the 2007 world champion gathered himself up - and set the then fastest lap on his next flying effort. Hamilton responded soon after, however, and, despite reporting that the handling of his MP4-24 wasn't to his liking, eventually posted the mark that would remain on top to the end.
The Briton was among a large proportion of the grid to be caught out by fluctuating wind strength and direction around turns nine and ten, frequently running out over the freshly painted kerbs and tarmac escape area. Kovalainen, Massa, Heidfeld, Giancarlo Fisichella and Sebastien Buemi all also made mistakes at the same point.
Buemi also failed to complete the session, the rookie's regular trips over the kerbs thought to have damaged a driveshaft and stranded himself out on course. As a result, a steady session resulted in him being mired to last spot, behind Bourdais and, unusually, Fernando Alonso, who appeared unable to tear himself away from the bottom three, while Renault team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr held station in 13th, one behind Shanghai winner Sebastian Vettel.