Hamilton has been cast 36 points adrift of Nico Rosberg following the opening three rounds of a campaign which has been blighted by factors largely out of the world champion’s control.
But Hamilton returned to the top of the order in Sochi on a day where Red Bull unveiled the canopy, a cockpit protection device which could become mandatory in Formula One next season, and Ferrari encountered yet more woes in their troubled start to 2016.
For Hamilton, a winner in each of the previous two races staged here, he posted a best lap of one minute and 37.583 seconds to finish nearly three quarters-of-a-second faster than Sebastian Vettel with Rosberg, quickest on Friday morning, almost one second adrift of his Mercedes team-mate.
Hamilton, who has admitted he cannot lose further ground to Rosberg after seeing the German ease to victory in each of the three races staged this season, was among a number of drivers to spin in both practice sessions.
The Briton continued: “That is what happens when you are pushing sometimes, but even with the spins I was still quickest.
“It is like driving on ice out there on these tyres. It is crazy. Hopefully it gets warmer, rubber goes down on the track, and it gets better.”
Ferrari appear to have closed the gap to Hamilton’s all-conquering Mercedes team over the winter, but they have been plagued by a host of problems this season.
Here, Vettel, the four-time world champion, was forced to stop on the start-finish straight just 30 minutes into the one-and-a-half hour session with an electronic glitch.
Earlier, Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull had been the talk of the town after the former world champions gave their canopy its first public airing.
Unlike the halo - a concept trialled by Ferrari in pre-season - the canopy, also dubbed the aeroscreen, has no central pillar but two pillars on the side, with a windscreen acting as a shield.
Ricciardo, who completed one scheduled lap with the canopy attached to his car in the opening moments of the 90-minute opening, said: “It is just a bit weird having the structure so that is something you have to get used to. Still what you see, the points on track, were pretty much unaltered so I think that was positive.”
Following a number of high-profile incidents in recent seasons, including the fatalities of Henry Surtees - the son of former world champion John Surtees - in a Formula Two race at Brands Hatch in 2009 and fellow Briton Justin Wilson at an IndyCar event last year, both caused by flying debris, motor racing’s governing body the FIA is determined to introduce improved cockpit protection for 2017.
It remains to be seen whether they will choose the halo, described by Hamilton as the “worst looking modification” in the sport’s history or Red Bull’s latest invention.
Meanwhile, the sport’s rulemakers have agreed a new set of engine regulations aimed at reducing costs as well as levelling out the playing field following Mercedes’ recent dominance.