They were followed by the Mercedes duo and Carlos Sainz as the lead Ferrari driver in seventh, with his penalty-addled team-mate Charles Leclerc down in 11th but with the red car pair running a notably different run plan to the leaders.
Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas established the first-place benchmark at 1m35.701s using the medium tyres.
Most of the running at the start of the one-hour session was completed on that yellow-walled rubber or the hards, with Sainz and Lando Norris using one of each – Sainz on hards and Norris on mediums – to forge ahead of Bottas as they completed their first fliers.
Perez then swept ahead on a 1m32.969s to close out the first five minutes, but he ran the soft tyres from the off, as did Alonso.
Alonso took the softs on his Aston Martin to a short-lived lead at the end of the opening 10 minutes with a 1m32.838s, which Lewis Hamilton then beat for Mercedes on a 1m32.665s on the hards.
But both were soon beaten by Perez moving back to the top spot on a 1m31.486s on his third run on his first set of softs.
With 16 minutes completed, Alonso returned to first place with a 1m31.262s, but again he was only in front for a short while as Perez returned to the top spot at the end of the opening 20 minutes having briefly returned to the pits by posting a 1m30.592s.
Either side of Alonso nipping back ahead of Perez with a 1m30.509s as he edged into double figures of laps completed on the softs, Verstappen took centre stage.
Finally out aboard his RB19 after remaining in the pits for the first 20 minutes of FP1, the world champion was also sent straight out on the softs.
His initial effort came in nearly a second down on Perez’s existing personal best, but on his second flier with 27 minutes on the board Verstappen squeezed ahead of his team-mate and Alonso to lead the Spaniard with a 1m30.494s.
There followed something of a lull as the rest returned to the pits to switch from the harder compounds to the softs, while Verstappen continued to pound around on his opening run on the softs.
Despite complaining of understeer at the critical, fast, reprofiled left of Turn 22 that apparently meant it felt his car would not “turn at all”, Verstappen improved the first-place benchmark to a 1m30.662s that moved him from 0.015s ahead of Alonso to 0.447s just past the halfway mark.
With the rest now on softs – Hamilton took his through a quick trip through the Turn 1 run-off at this stage, the Ferrari pair both…
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