Local hero Fernando Alonso gave his home fans something to cheer on Friday when he topped the times in second free practice ahead of Sunday's European Grand Prix.
The 29-year-old two-times champion clocked a best time of one minute 37.968 seconds round the Mediterranean street circuit, a lap that was good enough to lift him two-tenths of a second clear of nearest rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.
"A reasonable start," said Ferrari on their Twitter feed. "Let's see if we can build on this day."
Hamilton, the 26-year-old 2008 champion, showed plenty of his characteristic flair and aggression as he pushed hard to erase any lingering bad memories of his experiences at the last two Grands Prix in Monaco and Montreal.
Defending champion and runaway leader this year Sebastian Vettel was third fastest in his Red Bull, just a shade off Hamilton's pace, but fast enough to keep him ahead of compatriot and seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, 42, in his Mercedes.
Brazilian Felipe Massa was fifth quickest in the second Ferrari ahead of Briton Jenson Button, the 2009 champion who won the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago for McLaren.
Mark Webber was seventh in the second Red Bull - the Australian had been quickest in the morning session.
Nico Rosberg of Mercedes was eighth ahead of fellow-German Nick Heidfeld who outpaced his Renault team-mate Vitaly Petrov by taking ninth place ahead of him in 10th.
The session was run in dry and hot conditions under a blue sky and, after the spectacular carnage in Canada, produced few major incidents and accidents.
Vettel was fastest early on ahead of Webber, but as the session unfolded a series of drivers took charge - Rosberg, then Webber, Vettel again, Hamilton and, finally, Alonso, who was able to reduce his time to create a cushion at the head of the field.