Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton again appear poised to slug it out for pole position on Saturday ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Vettel edged Hamilton in the second 90-minute practice session at the Yas Marina track that replicated race conditions as it began under a setting sun and ended in darkness. The duo have now been quickest in eight of the 11 practice outings overall over the past four years of this event - a remarkable record, with no-one seemingly able to hold a candle to them.
Red Bull star Vettel and McLaren ace Hamilton have also locked out the front row in the three races to have taken place so far - with the former claiming two poles and the latter one. In the race itself, Vettel triumphed in 2009 and 2010 with Hamilton winning last year, taking advantage of a first-lap puncture on the German's car.
On this occasion, Vettel was 0.168secs clear of Hamilton, with team-mate Jenson Button - who has finished third in all three grands prix here - half a second adrift such was the chasm between the leaders and the rest of the field.
Crucially for Vettel, in the fight for the world championship as he aims to extend his 13-point lead over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, he finished 0.836secs ahead of the Spaniard, who was down in seventh.
The Ferrari has new parts on it this weekend, and it remains to be seen whether Alonso and the team can still extract more from them or whether they will again be found wanting come qualifying.
The one-lap showdown has been Ferrari's Achilles heel of late, and they cannot afford to concede too many positions to Vettel and Red Bull. Certainly Alonso has to avoid a six-place gap between himself and Vettel as other than Button, Red Bull's Mark Webber and the Lotus duo of Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen were all in between.
Alonso was the last of those within a second of Vettel, with Felipe Massa eighth on the timesheet, but 1.072secs adrift of the 25-year-old, who is aiming for his fifth consecutive win on Sunday.
Williams duo Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna were within two tenths of a second of one another in ninth and 11th, sandwiching McLaren-bound Sergio Perez in his Sauber, with the Mexican 1.355secs down.
There followed a trio of Germans in Mercedes pair Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, 12th and 14th, who sat either side of Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India, with all around 1.5secs off the pace. Paul di Resta, forced to sit out first practice as Jules Bianchi was given another outing, finished a third of a second behind Hulkenberg in 15th.