Sebastian Vettel redressed the balance in the second free practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he used his early laps on Pirelli's soft tyre to set the pace ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton has only ever started on the front row in Abu Dhabi and also won last year's race and started on pole for the inaugural event in 2009.
But in the end it was the world champion, on a mighty roll at the moment and seeking his fifth consecutive win, who came out on top of a mini duel in the second 90 minutes of running on Friday.
Jenson Button was third, confirming that McLaren could be a problematic threat to Ferrari's championship challenge this weekend, while Mark Webber was fourth amid more reliability issues.
Vettel's chief championship rival Fernando Alonso was only seventh fastest, some 0.8s away from the ultimate pace.
The two Saubers were the first cars on the significantly cooler track - temperatures having dropped noticeably since the first session - and while Sergio Perez set an early marker of 1m45.819s, it didn't stand for long as first Kimi Raikkonen posted a 1m44.503s and then Vettel a 1m43.323s.
The Red Bull then immediately posted a 1m43.067s on the next lap.
With only 10 minutes gone, most of the field had already ventured on track, and all of them on Pirelli's mediums - this weekend's prime selection.
Vettel kept improving too as he then posted a 1m42.730s. He needed to, as Button emerged from the pits on all cylinders and fired in a 1m42.804s in the McLaren.
That duo then pitted and out came Hamilton, who also could not match Vettel, but got within 0.06s of the Red Bull. He got even closer on the second lap (0.047s).
Hamilton persevered, in spite of suggestions from his team that he should pop in for a set-up change, and kept banging in the laps. On his tenth attempt he finally moved to the front with a 1m42.095s as McLaren, just as it did in P1, looked a match for Red Bull.
That lap changed the game a bit, and while Button and then Vettel both improved again, neither was within half a second of the 2008 world champion.
Around half distance most switched to the soft tyres, but that didn't change the order much.
Once he did get heat into the tyres though, Vettel suddenly found a bunch of time and went fastest on a 1m42.056s lap. And that wasn't all as he went faster still when the tyres zeroed in, this time setting a 1m41.751s.
Hamilton though was still in play, and he lobbed in a 1m41.919s as if to remind Vettel to stay on his toes, but in the end he ran out of time before the soft-tyre long runs became a priority. After that, Vettel's time was safe.
Vettel worked down from the low-49s into the mid-48s during his long runs, while McLaren and Alonso's Ferrari were quicker, though as ever, fuel levels made it impossible to evaluate.
During this period Hamilton radioed in to inform McLaren that he was suffering a recurrence of the steering wheel issues he had in the Indian race last weekend. He was told to stay out and later was informed that he was the quickest of all through the long runs.
Ferrari's world championship aspirations must have fluttered with concern after its drivers Alonso and Felipe Massa could manage only seventh and eighth. Pastor Maldonado was ninth and Perez tenth.
There were several spins and incidents, most notable of which were those of Vitaly Petrov, who rotated at Turn 8 on an in-lap and Narain Karthikeyan at the Turn 17 chicane.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m41.751 33 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m41.919s + 0.168 33 3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m42.412s + 0.661 35 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m42.466s + 0.715 21 5. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m42.500s + 0.749 33 6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m42.532s + 0.781 27 7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m42.587s + 0.836 30 8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m42.823s + 1.072 32 9. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m42.998s + 1.247 36 10. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m43.106s + 1.355 35 11. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m43.191s + 1.440 33 12. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m43.200s + 1.449 35 13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m43.255s + 1.504 33 14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m43.267s + 1.516 31 15. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m43.578s + 1.827 33 16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m43.689s + 1.938 31 17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m44.260s + 2.509 26 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m45.073s + 3.322 18 19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m45.245s + 3.494 35 20. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m45.782s + 4.031 32 21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m46.589s + 4.838 34 22. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m46.671s + 4.920 30 23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m46.707s + 4.956 25 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m47.406s + 5.655 34