Fernando Alonso led the way in practice for the first time since the Canadian Grand Prix ahead of this weekend’s night race in Singapore.
Alonso has often been best of the rest in many sessions this season behind Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
But for the first time since first practice in Montreal – and a run of 21 practice outings – Alonso finally managed to get the better of the all-conquering Mercedes pair.
Alonso, who won this race in controversial circumstances in 2008 via the ’crashgate’ saga, topped the timesheet with a lap of one minute 49.056 seconds.
The opening 90 minutes of practice started in fading daylight and ended under the glittering lights of the 23-turn Marina Bay Street Circuit.
That is when Alonso shone, putting in a solid lap to bump Hamilton and Rosberg down to second and third respectively, both just over a tenth of a second adrift and separated by just 0.027secs.
The trio were comfortably clear of four-times champion Sebastian Vettel, the winner of this race for the last three years.
It is expected, given the tight, twisty nature of the track, that it will play more to Red Bull’s strengths, although Vettel finished 0.818secs off the pace.
The German was the only other driver to come within a second of Alonso, with Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo another two-tenths of a second slower in fifth.
There was consternation for Vettel at the death as he stopped on track near the pit-lane exit complaining of an engine issue.
Team principal Christian Horner has confirmed Vettel will be lucky to make it back on track for the second session.
Horner said: “It looks like an engine problem, a sudden loss of engine oil pressure, which usually means something pretty nasty.
“The engine changes on this car take around three and a half hours, so there’s a lot of work to do.
“It’s going to be tough. The biggest loss is the track time and the long run.
“Sebastian doesn’t seem to have much luck at the moment.”
Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne was sixth, the Frenchman enduring his own worrying moment, although more of a personal nature.
At the end of the pit lane, and with Williams duo Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas stacked behind him, Vergne had to be wheeled back to the garage and over the radio asked to be given his medicine.
That was not code, though, given such messages are banned from this race onwards following a new directive from the FIA.
Motor sport’s world governing body has been forced to clamp down on the plethora of messages between teams and drivers.
Following complaints, however, it has relaxed its stance and whilst driver ’coaching’ remains outlawed, some crucial technical messages will still be allowed.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, whose front-right incurred a brake fire at one point in the pits, was seventh-best ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button, Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso and Force India’s Sergio Perez, the latter two seconds down.
Massa and Bottas, with five podium finishes between them in the last six races, but on a track unsuited to their car, were down in 13th and 15th respectively, three seconds adrift.
Marussia’s Max Chilton, meanwhile, was last, just over six seconds back.