Although little can usually be read into the results of the first practice session at any grand prix, Istanbul Park looks set to allow the other frontrunners to dream about beating Red Bull Racing.
While co-championship leaders Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were firmly ensconced in the top ten - taking fifth and eighth places respectively - the Milton Keynes team had to give best to the four leading Mercedes-powered cars, with Lewis Hamilton blitzing a circuit where he starred in the GP2 Series four years ago.
The Briton ended up easily the fastest of the 24 runners on show, taking top spot by a massive 0.962secs from McLaren team-mate Jenson Button. Although the current world champion took his turn at the head of the field, he was unable to respond when Hamilton took the benchmark into the 1min 28s, leaving the opening day target at 1min 28.653secs while Button had to make do with the 1min 29.615secs effort that he clocked midway through the 90-minute session.
The elder Briton had jut over a tenth in hand on his nearest rival, with Michael Schumacher again making the most of the longer wheelbase Mercedes to get the better of team-mate Nico Rosberg. The former Williams man was closer than he had been in Barcelona, however, but only just denied Vettel a top four position as the Red Bull driver got to within 0.013secs by the chequered flag.
While Mercedes annexed the top four spots, Renault filled the next four, with Vettel and Webber split by Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov. The two championship leaders also had a couple of tenths between them, but Petrov was a lot closer to his team-mate, lapping just 0.004secs slower than Kubica on a track he knows well from GP2.
Behind Webber, Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil completed the top ten for Ferrari and Force India respectively, but the German ended his session buried in the turn eight tyre wall after a heavy off, his Mercedes-powered car badly damaged at both ends and preventing any late improvements as yellow flags covered the crash scene.
While Ferrari is renowned for sandbagging on a Friday, track specialist Felipe Massa would have been disappointed not to join team-mate Alonso in the top ten. The Brazilian, who has won three times in the first five races at Istanbul Park, was sixth tenths and four places behind the best Ferrari, with Sauber Kamui Kobayashi and Force India's Tonio Liuzzi also between them. Alonso, Sutil, Liuzzi and Massa were all testing new variations on the controversial F-duct, as were frontrunners Mercedes and Red Bull, but it would appear that McLaren's tried and tested system continued to hold the upper hand on a circuit where, unlike Monaco, the idea has great merit.
Lotus again claimed bragging rights among the new teams, with Heikki Kovalainen - who twice outqualified Hamilton at Istanbul Park during their time together at McLaren - and Jarno Trulli respectively 2.7 and 1.9secs clear of nearest rival Karun Chandhok's HRT, with the Finn only 0.4secs adrift of Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari.
Chandhok, meanwhile, proved faster than either Virgin runner, and well ahead of temporary HRT testing partner Sakon Yamamoto, who made his debut with the Spanish team in place of the 'rested' Bruno Senna, who will return in the afternoon session.