Lewis Hamilton bided his time before vaulting to the top of the timesheets in the opening practice session of the inaugural Korean Grand Prix, as McLaren hinted that it may be back in business this weekend.
Although little can usually be read into the times set on a Friday, and especially in the opening 90-minute session, the Woking team will be optimistic that it can take the fight to Red Bull and Ferrari after the latest developments to its MP4-25 appeared to push Hamilton and team-mate Jenson Button back to the front of the field.
Both drivers took turns at the top of the table in Yeongam, but it was Hamilton who was there when it mattered, the 2008 world champion having waited until the first vestiges of a rubbery layer had been put down on the otherwise 'green' surface before venturing out on his flying run. The result was a 1min 40.887secs lap that proved just good enough to hold off a charging Robert Kubica, and usurp Mercedes' Nico Rosberg from top spot.
Button, meanwhile, had kick-started the step-up in performance by registering a 1min 43.095secs effort with less than half an hour remaining. That lap, at that point, was half a second quicker than anyone else had managed, but the reigning champion was able to go a second quicker to end the session on 1min 41.940secs, albeit fifth fastest, behind Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.
The German had been among those happy enough to venture out early on, along with team-mate Mark Webber, and improved late on to move himself back up the order, but ended the morning nearly half a second off Hamilton's pace despite beating the Briton's split times in the second half of the lap. Webber, meanwhile, was only seventh fastest, split from Button by the second Mercedes of Michael Schumacher. Nick Heidfeld's Sauber and the Williams of Nico Hulkenberg and Rubens Barrichello completed the top ten.
Hulkenberg and Barrichello had been fixtures in the top three as Button ramped up the pace, each taking turns in P1 before slipping back. Rosberg was the first to dislodge countryman Hulkenberg, before being supplanted by Hamilton's first serious effort. Button then returned to top spot, but Hamilton was not to be out-done, reclaiming fastest lap in the final minute of action as Kubica moved into second and both Rosberg and Vettel edged Button back down the order.
Ferrari, however, appeared content to follow its usual Friday programme, unconcerned at not matching the times of its title rivals. Felipe Massa was the faster of its two drivers, taking twelfth spot behind Renault's Vitaly Petrov, while championship contender Fernando Alonso was only 15th, some three seconds off the pace despite completing 21 laps of the new circuit.
Kamui Kobayashi and Adrian Sutil pushed themselves between the two Ferraris, while the Toro Rossos of Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari sandwiched the second Force India of Tonio Liuzzi in Alonso's wake. Timo Glock led the 'new' teams - although it is getting harder to call them that now - ahead of Friday driver Jerome d'Ambrosio, who was given the chance to replace Lucas di Grassi in order to give the team an indication of his pace on a circuit unfamiliar to all. With just a tenth between its two drivers, Virgin wound up half a second clear of main rival Lotus, which was restricted to a single threat after Jarno Trulli was revisited by gremlins and propped up the table, behind both HRTs, one of which was damaged in a Bruno Senna spin.