MANAMA (Reuters) - Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton set the pace on the opening day of practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix with the fastest lap in a floodlit session that was interrupted by a stray dog and a crash for Red Bull's Alexander Albon.
The Briton, who equalled Michael Schumacher's record world title haul at the last race in Turkey, stormed around the 5.4-km Sakhir desert track in one minute, 28.971 seconds on Friday evening, having also set the pace in afternoon practice.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen, sixth in the first of the day's two 90-minute sessions, emerged as his closest challenger with a time that was 0.347 seconds adrift.
Valtteri Bottas, who completed a Mercedes one-two behind Hamilton in the first session, slipped back to end the day third.
Friday evening's running was interrupted by two red flags.
The first stoppage was caused by a heavy crash for Albon.
The Thai driver, under pressure to keep his drive at Red Bull, lost control of his car on the exit of the final corner and smashed into the barriers. He escaped unscathed, apologising to his crew over the radio.
No sooner had the marshals cleared away the wreckage of his mangled Red Bull than the red flags came out again this time because of a dog that had run onto the circuit.
The session finally resumed for good with 27 minutes left on the clock, with Verstappen at the top of the timesheets before Hamilton re-established his supremacy.
Sergio Perez, who had gone third fastest in the opening session, ended the day fourth quickest in his Racing Point ahead of Renault's Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren ahead of Lance Stroll in the other Racing Point.
Gasly's AlphaTauri team mate Daniil Kvyat was ninth.
The crashed Albon, who had set a time before his practice-ending smash, rounded out the top 10.
Ferrari, who had locked out the top two spot in every session of practice and qualifying in Bahrain last year, failed to make the top 10 in either of Friday's two sessions.
Sebastian Vettel, the most successful driver in Bahrain with four wins, was 12th. Team mate Charles Leclerc, who was on course for an almost certain win in Bahrain last year until engine problems denied him, was 14th.
Alfa Romeo reserve driver Robert Kubica made his fourth practice appearance of the season, taking over Kimi Raikkonen’s car for the first session.
At Williams, development driver Roy Nissany got some track time in Briton George Russell’s car.
Drivers also dedicated some of their Friday running to evaluating new prototype tyres for 2021.
Sunday's race in Bahrain is the first of a whirlwind Middle East triple-header that wraps up the season.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Ken Ferris)