SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Seven times Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, hunting for his first win of the season, pipped championship leader Max Verstappen to the fastest time in Friday's opening practice session for the Singapore Grand Prix.
The Briton, topping a session for the first time this year, lapped the 5km Marina Bay circuit in one minute 43.033 seconds, with Verstappen, celebrating his 25th birthday, 0.084 seconds adrift in his Red Bull.
Monegasque Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari was third.
Verstappen goes into Sunday's floodlit Singapore spectacular, back on the calendar after a two-year COVID-19 induced absence, with his first shot at wrapping up a second successive title.
But the Dutchman, who has chalked up 11 victories this year including the last five in succession, will have to win on Sunday and outscore Leclerc by at least 22 points and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez by at least 13 to get the job done this weekend.
Mercedes, meanwhile, are also hunting for their first win.
The tight twists of the Marina Bay street track are suited to their car and could be enough to allow Hamilton, who has never ended a season without a win, to chalk up a season-first triumph or team mate George Russell to take his first career win.
Perez was fourth for Red Bull with Russell, surviving a spin and a nudge into the barriers, fifth.
Carlos Sainz was sixth for Ferrari ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon.
Canadian Lance Stroll, who brought out the red flags when he ground to a halt, was eighth for Aston Martin.
AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso in his Alpine rounded out the top-10.
Thai racer Alexander Albon, who underwent appendicitis surgery and suffered respiratory failure from post-operative anaesthetic complications earlier this month, was 16th fastest for Williams.
He completed 20 laps, the same as session topper Hamilton, of the physically-demanding Marina Bay layout.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Ken Ferris)