The Ferrari driver, who holds the record for the most podiums in Sakhir, ended up just two-tenths quicker than team mate Sebastian Vettel, but there was plenty of excitement before the red cars took the top spots.
Eight drivers - Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo - had turns being quickest, and no, you didn’t misread - Mercedes’ world championship points leader Lewis Hamilton was not in that exclusive group.
The Silver Arrows ended up down in 15th and 16th places after using their second set of medium compound tyres much earlier than their rivals, most of whom waited until towards the end when the track had rubbered in to take on fresh rubber.
The end result was a decidedly jumbled order.
The session started badly for McLaren as Jenson Button spun his MP4-30 to a halt in Turn 2 at the start of his first flying lap. An electrical problem was later diagnosed as the cause. Others, too numerous to mention, suffered serious front wheel lock-ups, especially at Turn 10, and generally there was a lack of grip which wasn’t helped as the track temperature declined from an initial 53 degrees Celsius to 45.
It could have been expected for Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel and Raikkonen to set the early pace, so the first surprise came at the 40-minute mark when Perez slapped on new mediums to go fastest for Force India before in turn being displaced by Alonso for McLaren and then Verstappen for Toro Rosso before Ricciardo came from left field for Red Bull with 26 minutes left to beat them all.
Vettel, however, had been sent back out after a long period in the garage in which Ferrari investigated an earlier loss of power, and the German swiftly went to the top with 1m 38.029s. Seconds later Raikkonen flashed across the line to beat him by 0.202s with 1m 37.827s.
Bottas ended up third with 1m 38.390s for Williams, ahead of late improver Carlos Sainz in the other Toro Rosso on 1m 38.447s, Ricciardo on 1m 38.455s, Verstappen on 1m 38.504s, Alonso on 1m 38.598s and another late improver, Felipe Nasr for Sauber on 1m 38.628s.
Behind them, Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat on 1m 38.790s and Williams' Felipe Massa on 1m 38.790s completed the top 10, but Perez on 1m 38.793s and Lotus's Pastor Maldonado on 1m 38.842s were both in the 1m 38s bracket.
Nico Hulkenberg took 13th on 1m 39.187s in the other Force India ahead of Lotus rookie Jolyon Palmer whose progress continued with a 1m 39.283s lap which was again respectably close to his Venezuelan team mate. Rosberg on 1m 39.293s, Hamilton on 1m 39.532s and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson on 1m 39.534s completed positions 15 to 17.
At the back, Will Stevens was 18th for Marussia with 1m 42.973s, from team mate Roberto Merhi on 1m 44.265s. Button didn’t record a time.
We should have a more realistic indication of form after FP2, which will be held in much more representative evening conditions.