Hamilton grabs top time in German GP practice

Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes on Friday dashed to a fast lap of 1 minute, 15.537 seconds in first free practice only to lower the time to 1:15.025 in second practice and stamp his authority on Hockenheimring ahead of Sunday's Formula One...

Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes on Friday dashed to a fast lap of 1 minute, 15.537 seconds in first free practice only to lower the time to 1:15.025 in second practice and stamp his authority on Hockenheimring ahead of Sunday's Formula One German Grand Prix.

The Englishman's teammate, Finn Heikki Kovalainen, followed him in first practice, which began on a wet track after overnight rain. The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and world champion Kimi Raikkonen split the McLarens in second practice. Only McLaren and Ferrari runners could duck under the 1:16 barrier all day.

The value to Hamilton of rain, forecast for the weekend, is immense. He thrives in it. Raikkonen, conversely, has said he wants full-on sun to make best use of this track and the Ferrari's capabilities. The two are tied, with Massa, atop the drivers' points table. And while the season's absence of traction control was predicted to be mistake-inducing for drivers, the result has been a flood of mistakes from race strategists, especially at Ferrari, where two drivers are contesting a title and where tire decisions have gone wrong too many times.

Massa, who has taken a press beating for spinning nearly a half-dozen times in the British Grand Prix two weeks ago -- but, hey, other drivers spun off not to return -- assessed Ferrari's chances as good. "All in all, it was a good day," he said. "We were always competitive, as were our main rivals. It won't be a stroll in the park, but we can take them on."

Raikkonen, in particular need of points, hesitantly echoed his teammate's confidence. "Friday's results always need to be looked at with a degree of caution as you never know for certain what the other teams were doing, and today is no exception to that rule," he said. "For our part, we tried to improve the setup of the car compared to the point we had reached at the end of the test, and we found, especially towards the end of the day, a few settings that could be interesting. So I am reasonably pleased with how things went and I think that there is still room for improvement."

Most times fell from first to second session. Massa and Renault's Fernando Alonso, fourth in first practice and sixth in second, were among consistent runners. Alonso's teammate Nelsinho Piquet landed 15th for running a half-second slower.

"It was a normal day without any difficulties," Alonso said. "The rain this morning affected our program slightly, but it also allowed us to run on a wet track, which could turn out to be useful for later in the weekend. We must still improve the general balance of the car, but we have already laid the foundations for the weekend."

Nico Rosberg of Williams improved his time by .25 seconds but shifted from sixth- to seventh-best. "This circuit definitely suits us a bit better, so we can look forward to a better weekend than recently," said Rosberg, one of five Germans in the race. His teammate, Kazuki Nakajima, spent most of the second session in the garage before an engine problem was sorted to allow him on track to set a time, 1:16.829.

Mark Webber leapt to fifth-quickest in the final laps of the second session, 1:16.017, when his temperamental Red Bull RB4 came to form. "We didn't get all the running in that we expected to, as we had an electrical problem with the car this afternoon and were a little bit on the back foot," he said. "But at least we did some testing here last week and we've got some good information to go through. The temperatures are unusually cool this year and that's something we have to get used to. Normally, the German Grand Prix is pretty hot but, nonetheless, we'll be fighting as usual."

Series rookie Sebastien Bourdais was hampered by gearbox gremlins in his Toro Rosso STR3 and could not do better than 18th with a 1:16.680 as teammate Sebastian Vettel rolled to 11th-quick in 1:16.422. Vettel settled just behind Red Bull's retiring David Coulthard, whose driving spot the young German will take next year. Coulthard posted a day's best of 1:16.378.

"I did not get to do too many laps today because in the morning I had a problem with a flywheel sensor and then this afternoon it was the gearbox," Bourdais said. "But the guys did a great job to get me out before the end of the session. The track is very different to the way it was at last week's test. So we had to make some changes to the setup. the car's not bad and I think we know the way to go to improve."

Bourdais has been told by the team he needs to find speed.

BMW Sauber's bright hope, Robert Kubica, crashed out of the first session but managed to edge teammate Nick Heidfeld for eighth-best in the second, 1:16.363 to 1:16.377. "Unfortunately, this morning I touched the white line with the grooved tires," Kubica said. "There was some standing water. I lost control of the car and hit the barrier. However, we did not miss a lot of running time in the dry. This afternoon we were more or less able to complete the program as planned. We now have to analyze the data and improve the balance of the car."

A number of runners found wide lines around the track last used in Formula One in 2006, but only Timo Glock found a bump in the grass that sent his Toyota front end skyward in a move reminiscent of his off-track maneuver in Melbourne at the season opener. Glock's 1:16.781 put him in 16th spot; teammate Jarno Trulli ran a 1:16.530 for 12th, ahead of the Hondas of Jenson Button (1:16.542) and Rubens Barrichello (1:16.677).

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Toro Rosso , Williams