Sebastian Vettel started the weekend that could yield a fourth straight F1 world championship in perfect fashion, topping the timesheets at the end of first practice.

The German, who needs just a fifth place finish on Sunday to reconfirm himself as number one for another year, posted a time of 1min 26.683secs midway through the 90-minute morning session at the Buddh International Circuit, leading Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber by a couple of tenths.

Vettel is the only driver to have triumphed at the Indian venue since its introduction to the schedule in 2011, and does not appear to be holding back as he seeks to wrap up the title four rounds from the end of the season. With the possibility of equalling Michael Schumacher's record of 13 race wins in a single season still possible with a 100 per cent record between now and Brazil, the 26-year old appears keen to lead from the front.

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Webber, not a fan of the Tilke-designed circuit, ended the session with a best of 1min 26.871secs as Red Bull took the early initiative from Mercedes and Lotus, which placed Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean third and fourth respectively, with marks of 1min 26.899secs and 1min 28.990secs.

The second Mercedes, driven by Lewis Hamilton, was next up to complete the top five, but did not appear as comfortable to drive as those cars ahead of him, the Briton being one of a number of drivers to exceed the limits of the circuit as he attempted to improve his time.

With Fernando Alonso suffering an early gearbox problem that left him on the sidelines for much of the session - and only twelfth in the final order - and Kimi Raikkonen mired down in 17th, it was McLaren who filled the void, with Jenson Button and Sergio Perez benefiting from a new suspension set-up - primarily designed for next season - to claim sixth and seventh positions, around seven-tenths off Vettel's pace.

The rest of the top ten was completed by Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber) and the surprising Valtteri Bottas (Williams), with Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne also squeezing in ahead of Alonso by the end.

Pastor Maldonado, in 14th, and Force India reserve James Calado (18th) were among those to suffer notable spins on the still dusty surface, but there were no major interruptions to the session.