By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
Fernando Alonso set the pace this morning during the first free practice session for the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The Spaniard topped the time sheets with a lap of 1m31.894s after a last-minute dash for the fastest time. He set his time on a set of experimental soft Pirelli tyres, which proved to be faster than the regular Soft (Prime) compound which together with the Medium (Option) compound has been allocated for the German Grand Prix.
His Ferrari team colleague Felipe Massa took fourth place, but the Brazilian was 0.787s slower than Alonso. It was a cold but dry first practice session with an ambient temperature of around 14C and an asphalt temperature of 18 to 20C.
Both Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel landed second and third position respectively, but the difference between the Australian and the 2010 German champion was not more than 0.051s. A good start therefore for Ferrari and Red Bull, while McLaren was considerably slower today.
Lewis Hamilton was the fastest of the McLaren pair and took fifth position, over one second slower than the Ferrari of Alonso. Jenson Button had even more problems, as he finished the morning in sixth place, 1.734s slower than the fastest time.
The fastest German driver was Nico Rosberg, who steered his Mercedes in front of his home crowd to a seventh position with a time of 1m33.787s, almost two seconds shy of the fastest time. His team colleague seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher scored tenth place after he earlier in the session had several ‘moments’ and on one occasion landed in the gravel trap, but the experienced German managed to get his Mercedes out without any assistance.
Eighth and ninth place on the time sheets were occupied by two other Germans: Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg, the latter took over the duties of Scot Paul di Resta this morning. Russian Vitaly Petrov was the fastest of the Lotus Renault drivers, and took 11th place, with a gap of 2.200s to leader Alonso. The damage for his German team colleague Nick Heidfeld was ever greater, as he didn’t get further than 15th position with a time of 1m35.444, three and a half seconds slower than Alonso and 1.345s slower than Petrov.
Next on the list is Jaime Alguersuari who took 12th place, while his colleague Sebastian Buemi caused the one and only yellow flag in this morning’s session after he flew off at high speed with just one minute to go. The Swiss driver managed to steer his Toro Rosso away from all obstacles and ultimately got stuck in the gravel trap, he nevertheless took 13th position right behind Alguersuari.
Rubens Barrichello had a pretty uneventful but also pretty un-impressive run this morning and had to be satisfied with 14th place, almost three and a half seconds off the pace. His Venezuelan team colleague Pastor Maldonado didn’t impress either, as he took 18th position for Williams.
Sixteenth on this morning’s time table was the first of the Sauber drivers, Mexican rookie Sergio Perez, he too had a few outings at the first turn of the Nurburgring and was 4.447s slower than Alonso. His Japanese colleague Kamui Kobayashi recorded a time of 1m36.882 and landed a 19th position and thus was half a second slower than Perez.
Team Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen was the fastest driver of the newest teams and finished in an excellent 17th position. His new team colleague Karun Chandhok who made his race debut for the Malaysian team today did what Jarno Trulli normally does, and finished the morning behind Kovalainen in 21st place, 2.373s slower than the Fin.
HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan took over the wheel of Vitantonio Liuzzi, who had to sit out morning practice, and landed 20th place, while rookie Daniel Ricciardo took 22nd place for the Spanish team. The last German on the list was Marussia Virgin driver Timo Glock with a time of 1m40.109, and the very last spot was taken by Belgium Jerome d’Ambrosio who was over eight seconds slower than the fastest time of the day.
Rain has been forecasted for this afternoon, but the weather at the Nurburgring is notoriously unpredictable, the circuit is surrounded by the hills of the Eiffel, and the conditions can change from minute to minute, but if it rains, it will be interesting to see whether the top teams will still be fastest on the 5.1478 km long circuit.