Lewis Hamilton underlined Mercedes' desire to return to the front of the F1 pack in Singapore by setting the pace in the opening practice session around the streets of Marina Bay.
The Briton was a force from the moment he ventured out in the midst of the 90-minute session, which started in fading sunshine and ended under the lights, and eventually wound up a comfortable three-tenths quicker than anyone else.
The removal of the widely-disliked Singapore Sling chicane at turn ten, as well as resurfacing at other sections of the track, allowed Hamilton to set a new lap record for the circuit, the Briton clocking a 1min 47.055secs mark that was more than three seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel's previous best mark.
Vettel had to make do with third fastest time of the session after being beaten to P2 by Red Bull
team-mate Mark Webber, although both drivers were the only others to get into the 1min 47s. The German was fully eight-tenths shy of Hamilton's time at the end of the session, but was comfortably ahead of the other Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, who filled fourth spot on 1min 48.239secs.
Kimi Raikkonen, the subject of pre-race headlines and press conference scrutiny ahead of practice, rounded out the top five after edging Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean, whose entry had been delayed by steering woes, by 0.001secs. The pair were ahead of Fernando Alonso, whom the Finn will be teaming with in 2014, with Sergio Perez – the first driver to set a time some 30mins into the slow-burning session – in eighth, ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Esteban Gutierrez.
Pastor Maldonado hinted at another possible strong showing in the higher-downforce Williams
– having used a similar package to claim a point in Hungary – by occupying eleventh spot, while team-mate Valtteri Bottas was 13th, sandwiching the second Ferrari
of Felipe Massa.
Jenson Button was 14th after, as team boss Martin Whitmarsh confirmed, working through a development package, putting the McLaren
just ahead of the two Force Indias, with Paul di Resta having the early upper hand on Adrian Sutil. Nico Hulkenberg
and Daniel Ricciardo filled 17th and 18th spots, hardly representative of two drivers who could be filling better cars next season, while Marussia got the better of Caterham in the back of the field battle.