With all eyes heading into Friday on the make-or-break upgrades added to the Ferrari for this weekend, and the relentless tweaks to the pacesetting Red Bull RB8, McLaren's likely competitiveness had largely been overlooked given the team's hopes of winning either world title are effectively over.
Indeed, both McLarens gave scant early indication of the MP4-27's pace around Yas Marina as the team waited until the mid-point of the session before beginning their first runs of the weekend, a tactic employed to varying degrees by most of the front runners owing to the ever-dusty nature of desert circuit.
Yet once out onto the circuit, Hamilton's speed in particular was immediately prodigious. So much so that last year's Abu Dhabi victor vaulted to the top of the timesheet by a full second on his very first lap before lowering the benchmark to an eventual 1:43.285 during the course of a very encouraging nine-lap run.
The only two realistic title contenders, Red Bull and Ferrari, were left trailing by that show of speed with the in-form World Championship leader Sebastian Vettel lapping three tenths adrift of Jenson Button and a further four behind Hamilton.
In a last-ditch attempt to improve their F2012's pace to retaliate to Red Bull's stunning recent step forward, Ferrari broke their first curfew of the season on Friday morning to bolt on a series of new parts to the F2012 in time for the day's first practice session.
These were headlined by new front and rear wing, and curved bargeboards, but on the timesheet at least made little immediate impression with Fernando Alonso over a second and a half off the pace behind Mark Webber and Mercedes' Michael Schumacher in sixth place.