Lewis Hamilton was 'on it' from his very first lap of practice at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, and ended the 90-minute session nearly half a second faster than anyone else.
At one point, more than five-tenths clear, Hamilton eventually had to settle for a 0.333secs margin over McLaren team-mate Jenson Button as the Woking team seized the early initiative in hot conditions. Hamilton's first flying lap sent him to the top of the timesheets, comfortably quicker than any other lap, and he remained there despite chipping away at his mark, while others found bigger gains. The eventual benchmark time of 1min 43.285secs was initially a massive seven-tenths clear of the pack, but Button gradually reeled his colleague in, eventually getting to within four-tenths with his final lap.
Behind the silver cars, championship leader - and winner of the last four races - Sebastian Vettel was 0.765secs off Hamilton's pace, despite Red Bull bringing a new front wing to Abu Dhabi, but still had three-tenths in hand over nearest title rival Fernando Alonso, whose Ferrari featured a bigger raft of changes. The Scuderia spent much of the session swapping and changing between development parts, primarily a new front wing, rear wing and barge boards, keen to see what worked best with the existing car, and Alonso had to settle for fourth spot, between the two Red Bulls.
Mark Webber was another tenth back, just ahead of Michael Schumacher, who led the way early on, before being surpassed by the expected pacesetters. Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg - the last driver to score a point for the Three-Pointed Star, back in Singapore - was eighth fastest, sandwiching Williams Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan was matched to the thousandth by Williams' reserve Valtteri Bottas through the middle part of the session, before just easing ahead in the closing moments. Bottas ended another impressive run in ninth spot, with Kimi Raikkonen rounding out the top ten whilst running another revised exhaust on his Lotus.
Felipe Massa, Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg were next up, ahead of Romain Grosjean, who ran different development parts to his Lotus team-mate, and Force India reserve Jules Bianchi, who again had a chance to advance his case to be Hulkenberg's replacement next season. Another candidate for the seat, Bruno Senna, was joined on the sidelines on this occasion by Paul di Resta while, further back, Charles Pic, Vitaly Petrov and Narain Karthikeyan all took time out to allow replacements to fill their seats at Marussia, Caterham and HRT.
Caterham was trying a few new pieces on its CT01, but Heikki Kovalainen was left to do the bulk of the running after reserve Giedo van der Garde fell prey to undisclosed engine problems and failed to set a time with just three installation laps to his credit. Kovalainen, meanwhile, was seven-tenths off the back of the midfield, represented by Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne, but four-tenths clear of Marussia's Timo Glock. Pedro de la Rosa was next up, with rookies Max Chilton - getting his first race weekend run with Marussia - and Ma Qing Hua filling the gap to van der Garde.
It will now be interesting to see how the order changes in FP2, with the weekend's twilight schedule pitching the field back out in cooler conditions more akin to those they will experience during Saturday's qualifying and Sunday's race.