Yeongnam: Lewis Hamilton topped the timesheets for McLaren in the opening practice session for the inaugural Korean Formula One Grand Prix on Friday.
The Briton set his benchmark time of 1min 40.887secs with one minute remaining in the 90-minute session.
The performance came despite the 25-year-old’s having to sit out much of the early part of practice as his team changed the rear wing on his car.
Hamilton, the 2008 champion, is fourth in the title race, 28 points adrift of series leader Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing after scoring just 10 points in the last three races.
Pole Robert Kubica was second for Renault, 0.081secs off Hamilton’s pace, while German Nico Rosberg for Mercedes, compatriot Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull Racing, and Hamilton’s teammate and defending world champion Jenson Button rounded out the top five.
Australian Webber was 1.3secs behind Hamilton in seventh place. Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who sits second in the title race, was 15th quickest for Ferrari, three seconds off the front-running pace.
The asphalt at the new 264 million dollar circuit was only laid two weeks ago, and drivers reported that the track was very dusty and slippery in the early stages of the 90-minute session.
Webber was the first of the title contenders to show his hand, leading the session at the halfway stage before teammate Vettel took over atop the timesheets with half an hour remaining.
Button jumped to top spot with four minutes to go before being overhauled by Hamilton, whose session-best lap came on his 15th tour of the 5.621km Yeongam circuit.
Rookie Bruno Senna spun off track at Turn 7 with 26 minutes remaining in the session. The Brazilian broke the left rear suspension on his car in the 360-degree spin, and took no further part in practice, finishing in 23rd position.
A second 90-minute practice session will be held on Friday afternoon.