Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the pace throughout first practice at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix.
Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were next up for most of the session until Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly took second place late on.
Gasly was 0.437 seconds slower than Verstappen and 0.034secs ahead of Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest 0.786secs off the pace.
Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was fifth ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
The session was largely uneventful as drivers explored the Losail track until Mick Schumacher lost control of his Haas on entry to Turn Seven and spun into the gravel.
Behind Perez, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz completed the top 10.
Hamilton asked a couple of times on the radio whether his Mercedes was down on power but was told by race engineer Peter Bonnington that it was not the case.
The seven-time champion heads into the weekend 14 points behind Verstappen in the championship with three races to go.
Hamilton was wearing a new helmet design sporting the pride rainbow colours, a statement in favour of human rights, a day after he said that countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which hosts its maiden grand prix in two weeks’ time, “need scrutiny”.
The session took place as F1 waits for a decision from the stewards on Mercedes’ request for a review of the controversial incident between the two title rivals on lap 48 of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Track limits are expected to be a major issue over the weekend because of the low kerbs at a track that was designed for motorcycle racing.
Race director Michael Masi was not policing them during the first session as he watched to see which corners were most likely to be exploited by drivers running wide.
The first session is not likely to be representative of true performance – partly because it was the drivers’ and teams’ first experience of the track, but also because this is a night race, with qualifying and grand prix taking place after dark.
Track temperatures will be much lower once the sun goes down than during the first session, which took place at mid-afternoon in Qatar.