Sebastian Vettel created the first surprise of the European Grand Prix weekend by topping the opening practice session on the new street circuit around the harbour in Valencia.

Scuderia Toro Rosso clearly had a handle on the latest addition to the Formula One schedule, with rookie Sebastien Bourdais backing up his German team-mate in fourth place, but it was Vettel who stole the honours after the opening 90 minutes of action around the fast and flowing course.

The German, bound for Red Bull Racing next season, clocked a target of 1min 40.496secs towards the end of the session, which was run in hot and humid conditions on the side of the Mediterranean, but had previously moved into P1 on two separate occasions.

His eventual margin over the field amounted to a tenth-and-a-half, with Ferrari's Felipe Massa leading the chase after the pair had swapped times in the closing moments. Along with third-placed Lewis Hamilton, who spun during the session, the duellists were the only drivers to break the 1min 41secs barrier, still some four seconds off the predicted pace once the track 'rubbers in'.

Having run at the front throughout, Bourdais only just missed joining the leading trio in the 1min 40s, clocking 1min 41.099secs to head the second McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen, while title contenders Robert Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen filled the next couple of positions, with Kazuki Nakajima, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg rounding out the top ten in a good session for Williams.

Without the pressure of the walls being quite as close as they are in Monaco, there were no major incidents to report, and no interruptions to the session, despite the drivers quickly building up their pace and confidence as they discovered the true nature of the layout. Despite that, however, some were lower in the order than expected.

Chief among those will be the Red Bull Racing duo of Mark Webber and David Coulthard, who propped up the timesheets after lapping 3.0 and 2.8secs slower than Vettel respectively. Giancarlo Fisichella was the only other driver to fail to break out of the 1min 43s, with Honda's Jenson Button fully six-tenths faster than the Italian.

The different strategies employed by the various teams meant that Button came close to toppling BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, as the German languished in 16th spot behind Nelson Piquet Jr, Timo Glock and Adrian Sutil, the second Force India driver well up the order and within touching distance of both Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello.