Pastor Maldonado set the pace during first practice at the European Grand Prix, clocking a 1:40.890 to go quicker than the two Red Bulls around the Valencia street circuit.
The last time Maldonado drove a Formula One car on a Spainish circuit he won at Barcelona, and the Williams' strong traction out of slower corners looks set to put him in good stead this weekend. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were both within a tenth of a second of the Williams and showed impressive pace in the fast and flowing final sector of the lap.
There were signs of Jenson Button making a recovery this weekend as he adopted a new setup and set the fourth fastest time, 0.104s off Maldonado. He looked capable of going faster but locked up both front tyres into turn 17 on his fast lap, ruining his chance of improving. The No.3 car then returned to the garage for more setup tweaks ahead of this afternoon's second practice session.
Several other drivers also made minor errors through the session but all managed to keep their cars out of the barriers. Windy conditions, a dusty track surface and plenty of cloud cover suggests lap times could plummet as the weekend continues and drivers will be wary about chasing setup until the circuit starts offering more grip.
Fernando Alonso was also in the mix, setting a time 0.175s off Maldonado in his Ferrari. The team started the session with the front wing doused in aero paint as a constant stream of upgrades continue to be trialled on the F2012. Paul di Resta was also in touch in the Force India, responding to calls from team principal Vijay Mallya for his cars to get among the front runners in upcoming races.
Michael Schumacher was the highest-placed Mercedes driver ahead of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren in eighth and team-mate Nico Rosberg. The top nine were split by just 0.292s as this weekend promises to be as closely fought over as recent grands prix.
The two Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean were tenth and 11th fastest ahead of the two Saubers, but both teams have tended to offer better race pace than one-lap pace in recent weeks. Felipe Massa was 14th fastest in the second Ferrari, 1.219s off the pace.