"I take so many great memories with me as I prepare for my final two races", said the former Ferrari driver who missed out on the 2008 title to Hamilton by a single point.
Hamilton, who accused Renault's Nico Hulkenberg over the radio of risky driving in forcing him wide onto the runoff in the morning, was half a second faster than Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen before lunch.
The Finn was the best of the non-Mercedes rest, with Red Bull's Dutch 20-year-old Max Verstappen fourth on the timesheets on a sunny morning in Sao Paulo.
Team principal Christian Horner said Red Bull had played it safe due to reliability concerns and the need to make the engine last.
Both Toro Rossos hit trouble, with Brendon Hartley's Renault power unit expiring early in the session and Pierre Gasly completing a total of just four laps. It was Russell's second F1 experience after a two-day test with Mercedes in Hungary earlier this year, and he impressed with a time 0.593s off teammate Ocon.
"I don't think they are going to ask".
Red Bull's Mexican GP victor Max Verstappen was the only driver to set a laptime in the first 10 minutes - but his initial benchmark was quickly surpassed by the soft-shod Mercedes of Bottas, the Finn ending his first run on a 1m10.102s laptime.
Mercedes have clinched the constructors' championship for a fourth successive year and experimented with processes and parts for 2018. They look quick in all conditions, all tyres.
"I don't know the track so for me it was really important to get some running", said Gasly.
On his 28th birthday, and a week after winning the world endurance championship for a second time, Hartley had mixed fortunes.
British driver George Russell, the 19-year-old GP3 champion, made his grand prix weekend debut with Force India and was an impressive 12th fastest at an unfamiliar circuit and in a auto he had not driven before.