It wasn't the usual morning practice session for the F1 fraternity as the Singapore Grand Prix got underway on the streets around Marina Bay, but Sebastian Vettel still claimed the early initiative ahead of the year's most atmospheric race weekend.
After a cautious start precipitated by a sudden downpour during the preceding GP2 Series practice session, Vettel emerged as a legitimate threat to McLaren's current superiority, ending the 90-minute session that went from daylight to floodlight 0.049secs ahead of Italian GP winner Lewis Hamilton. As the margin suggests, the pair looked evenly matched around the 3.1-mile layout, with Hamilton the faster through the quicker opening section, but Vettel's Red Bull making up the difference through the more technical return leg.
Jenson Button moved into third place from the foot of the top ten in the final minutes of the session, by which point everyone had progressed from the intermediate Pirellis to the soft slick compound, but was fully eight-tenths off the leading pair. Championship leader Fernando Alonso was next up, a further tenth back, with Williams' Pastor Maldonado rounding out the top five, narrowly ahead of the second Red Bull of Mark Webber and Nico Hulkenberg's Sahara Force India. The German's team-mate, Paul di Resta, Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo and Sauber's Sergio Perez completing the top ten.
Neither Lotus made the leading group, with Kimi Raikkonen in twelfth and the returning Romain Grosjean 15th, mixing it with the likes of Bruno Senna, Kamui Kobayashi, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa. There was less joy on the other side of the Mercedes' garage with Nico Rosberg behind STR's Jean-Eric Vergne in 18th, although team principal Ross Brawn insisted that the session had primarily been used to evaluate the McLaren-esque exhaust system tested at last week's Magny-Cours 'young driver' test.
Behind Rosberg, there was something of a turn-up in the bottom six, with Marussia's Timo Glock emerging ahead of Caterham's usual pacesetter, Heikki Kovalainen. Proving that it was no fluke, the German's team-mate, rookie Charles Pic, came out ahead of Vitaly Petrov in the second Caterham, while Pedro de la Rosa had the upper hand over his FP1 colleague at HRT, Ma Qing Hua.
The prospect of thundery showers interrupting the session failed to materialise, but rain remains a threat for FP2 which takes place from 2130hrs local time.