Lewis Hamilton again underlined the improvements McLaren rushed onto his MP4-24 ahead of the German Grand Prix by topping the times in the final hour of practice at the Nurburgring.

The reigning F1 world champion clocked a weekend best 1min 31.121secs lap to keep himself at the head of the field, but the presence of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa as his closest rivals confirmed that this was no ordinary session, as the expected frontrunners from Brawn and Red Bull languished a little further down the order, uninterested in chasing flat-out performance.

Hamilton ended the morning 0.219secs clear of Alonso's Renault, having sat at the top of the charts for much of the hour, although the margin could have been smaller had Alonso not spun on his final flying lap, bringing yellow flags out to accompany the chequer in the last seconds. Massa was close on the Spaniard's heels, lapping just 0.011secs slower in the best of the Ferraris, while pre-race favourites Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber rounded out the top five.

Kimi Raikkonen, Jarno Trulli, Nico Rosberg, Kazuki Nakajima and Nick Heidfeld all lapped under 1min 32secs to claim top ten spots - despite the BMW Sauber team admitting that it was just plain 'slow' - while championship leader Jenson Button narrowly missed the bracket in eleventh after again complaining that he was struggling for front end grip in the cool Eifel temperatures.

All was not well in the Brawn camp, however, and once again the misfortune befell Rubens Barrichello, who lost two-thirds of the session with a hydraulic problem. The Brazilian was only able to post the 14th best time, putting him behind local favourites Timo Glock and Adrian Sutil, with the second Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella sandwiching the Brawn and suggesting that the Silverstone team may be a good bet for Q2 once more.


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