Lewis Hamilton was left complaining of a "floating" Mercedes around a São Paulo Grand Prix circuit where he delivered one of the stand-out performances of his F1 career a year ago.
At the end of the only practice session available to the teams and drivers ahead of qualifying given this weekend hosts the last of the season's three sprints, Hamilton finished only fifth quickest as Red Bull's Sergio Perez led the way.
Just eight-thousandths of a second separated the top three, with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc 0.004secs behind Perez, who posted a lap of one minute 11.853secs, and whose team-mate Max Verstappen was a further 0.004s down.
Carlos Sainz, whose Ferrari has taken on a sixth new internal combustion engine of the season, leading to a five-place penalty for Sunday's race, was fourth fastest, 0.186s down, edging Hamilton by 0.001s.
The seven-time F1 champion, though, was left unhappy with his W13.
With 20 minutes of the session remaining at Interlagos, Hamilton complained of his W13 "floating around" at the rear, leaving him with "no grip" and languishing in 16th on the timesheet at that point as his team pushed him back into the garage.
Emerging on his next run from the pits on soft tyres, Hamilton locked up at one point, forcing him to abort that lap, as was the case with the following tour before he finally posted a representative time of 1:12.040s.
It was in stark contrast to Hamilton's performance at this track a year ago.
Hamilton started the sprint last after being disqualified from qualifying for a technical infringement but managed to finish fifth at the end of the 24 laps.
The Briton then took a five-place grid penalty for the grand prix following an engine change, leading to him starting 10th but going on to win the race following a fascinating duel with Verstappen.
Hamilton still managed to finish ahead of team-mate George Russell by 0.015s, with Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel a strong seventh and a further tenth of a second back.
Haas driver Mick Schumacher, whose F1 future still remains uncertain, was eighth quickest, followed by Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly in his AlphaTauri, with the French driver sitting uncomfortably two points away from a race ban.
Despite this 60 minutes being the only one for the teams to set up their cars ahead of qualifying, five drivers opted not to use the soft tyres.
Alpine pair Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were 11th and 13th, McLaren's Lando Norris 15th whose team-mate Daniel Ricciardo propped up the standings, 1.506s down, while AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda was one place ahead of the Australian.
Norris was at least able to take part after missing Thursday's track walk and media commitments after being hit with a bout of food poisoning.
São Paulo Grand Prix first practice results
1. Sergio Perez [Red Bull] 1:11.853secs
2. Charles Leclerc [Ferrari] +0.004s
3. Max Verstappen [Red Bull] +0.008s
4. Carlos Sainz [Ferrari] +0.186s
5. Lewis Hamilton [Mercedes] +0.187s
6. George Russell [Mercedes] +0.202s
7. Sebastian Vettel [Aston Martin] +0.304s
8. Mick Schumacher [Haas] +0.461s
9. Valtteri Bottas [Alfa Romeo] +0.613s
10. Pierre Gasly [AlphaTauri] +0.614s
11. Fernando Alonso [Alpine] +0.701s
12. Alexander Albon [Williams] +0.780s
13. Esteban Ocon [Alpine] +0.852s
14. Lance Stroll [Aston Martin] +0.906s
15. Lando Norris [McLaren] +1.102s
16. Kevin Magnussen [Haas] +1.144s
17. Nicholas Latifi [Williams] +1.166s
18. Zhou Guanyu [Alfa Romeo] +1.262s
19. Yuki Tsunoda [AlphaTauri] +1.494s
20. Daniel Ricciardo [McLaren] +1.506