(CNN) -- McLaren's Lewis Hamilton scored an early boost over his three Formula One world-championship rivals on Friday as he set the fastest time in practice ahead of Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton's lap time of one minute 40.888 seconds put him clear of Red Bull duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who finished second and fourth respectively, with Fernando Alonso -- the favorite to take the 2010 crown at the season-ending race -- third fastest.
Two-time champion Alonso, 29, is the only one of the four who can seal the title at the Yas Marina Circuit with a top-two finish regardless of where the others finish, with each of the remaining drivers needing results to go their way for victory.
Hamilton still holds a slim hope of winning his second championship; he is currently fourth in the standings, 24 points behind leader Alonso, with 25 points on offer for the winner of the season's final race.
The 25-year-old had to battle with his Ferrari counterpart as they traded fast laps, but it was the 2008 champion who eventually got the better of the Spaniard.
"The car feels good, so I'm hopeful for a good qualifying result tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon," said Hamilton in a McLaren statement.
"Of course, it will be tough, because the Red Bulls tend to pull out half a second in the third round of qualifying, but our pace is closer to theirs than it's ever been.
"Of all the weekends this year, this time I feel like we really do have the right package to challenge the fastest cars. I think we can fight for the front row."
The first practice session was dogged by unexpected rain on the track until the skies cleared and the driver's enjoyed a disruption-free second session.
Webber was almost half a second slower than the British pacesetter and knows he will need to improve over the course of the weekend if he is to win his first title.
A repeat of the Australian's fourth place in practice will require Alonso to finish ninth or lower in race for him to triumph.
It was a decent start to the weekend for 23-year-old Vettel, who will more than likely need maximum points from Abu Dhabi to avoid the disappointment of finishing runner up for the second season running.