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Alonso in early surprise
Felipe Massa, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg appeared to be running different programmes to their respective team mates and all finished just outside the top 10.
After spending the early stages of the session completing purely aero runs, with flow vis paint caped on the rear wing of the car, mid way through the session Spanish hero Alonso dislodged Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel from the top of the timesheet, before soon going faster still on a 1:24.430.
Rossi's appearance was particularly significant as the Formula Renault 3.5 driver became the first American to compete in F1 since Scott Speed in 2007, the 20 year old completing more laps than anyone 25 en route to encouragingly lapping within a second of regular Caterham race driver Vitaly Petrov.
What is usually arguably the most low key session of a Grand Prix weekend carried far more importance on Friday as teams rolled out their definitive packages for the first round of the European season after weeks of work in their respective wind tunnels, and rare in season testing time at Mugello last week.
That was good enough to set the morning pace as, in an otherwise quiet session, Vettel held second ahead of Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, the World Champion just over three tenths of a second back on the Ferrari as Red Bull tried some aero updates of their own.
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the Grand Prix weekend debut of two young up and coming drivers, Alexander Rossi at Caterham and HRT's Dani Clos.
Williams Friday driver Valtteri Bottas produced his most eye catching performance in P1 so far this season to take a strong fifth for Williams, finishing ahead of Mercedes' Michael Schumacher and the lead Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
As expected, McLaren's upgrades proved the most obvious to the eye. The team ran the new higher nose Adidas Climacool Shoes Green
on the MP4 27 although this was initially only on Jenson Button's car, as Lewis Hamilton ran a comparison with the older version.
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Ferrari may have played down the scale of their long awaited F2012 update but Fernando Alonso nonetheless set the practice pace for the first time this season on Friday morning in Barcelona.
The latter eventually Adidas Climachill Sonic Shoes switched to the newer nose suggesting it will indeed be raced this weekend although Button still ended up the faster of the two in fourth place, as Hamilton only went eighth.
Spanish driver Clos, meanwhile, was slightly less fortunate after his F112 slowed with an apparent mechanical problem at the top of the pit lane when he had just 19 laps on the board.
of the European season was also notable for Adidas Climachill Rocket Boost Grey
Having badly underperformed in dry conditions in the opening flyaway rounds, Ferrari have long targeted Spain for their first big step forward of the season and naturally many eyes were on the two F2012s as practice got underway although the team's morning Tweet made clear that any suggestions they were about to reveal a radical overhaul were well wide of the mark: "No revolution in the car, no B car, just improvements, mainly in the aerodynamics".
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