Nico Rosberg underlined why he may again be the man to beat over one lap ahead of this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.
On pole position at the last two races, Rosberg today began his quest for a hat-trick in exemplary fashion around the confines of Monte Carlo's tight, twisty streets.
Under warm sunshine and blue skies, Formula One's jewel in the crown glittered throughout the first 90-minute practice session, occupying a Thursday slot with Friday a traditional day of rest at this circuit.
Rosberg posted a time around the 3.340-kilometre barrier-lined circuit of one minute 16.195 seconds, his time set amid a 28-lap run on the soft tyres and likely to have impressed his rivals.
On Sunday, pole should bring about the much-wanted victory given the difficulties in overtaking.
Rosberg's team-mate Lewis Hamilton, on pole in China to give Mercedes three in a row overall, the Briton had to settle for fifth-quickest, just over a quarter of a second adrift.
Sandwiched in between the duo were Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, on a high after winning last time out in his home country of Spain and aiming to become the first man here to win with three different teams.
Alonso was just 0.087secs adrift of Rosberg, followed closley by the Lotus of Romain Grosjean and Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa.
British rookie Max Chilton was slowest of all, finishing four seconds down.