Adrian Sutil has a habit of emerging at the front of the field when conditions are far from ideal, and the German did so again as rain soaked the opening practice session for his home grand prix.
The Force India driver made the most of a slowly drying track to vault into top spot in the closing moments of the 90-minute session, clocking the only lap under 1min 26secs as he set the benchmark at 1min 25.701 and secure a margin in excess of a second over the next fastest man.
That, somewhat surprisingly, was Felipe Massa who, after wishing for a 'normal' weekend, spent most of the session rotating at various points on the circuit, but still managed to find a clear lap faster than everyone bar Sutil. Underlining the German's inspired timing, the pack behind Massa remained closely bunched, with the next five drivers - including Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Vitaly Petrov and Nico Rosberg - all within six-tenths of each other.
Sebastien Buemi, Nico Hulkenberg, Sutil's Force India team-mate Tonio Liuzzi and Pedro de la Rosa rounded out the top ten, although the Spaniard was fully 2.7secs adrift of the ultimate pace to highlight how much of an effect the conditions were having.
While Button was securing third for McLaren with a late lap of his own, the other side of the garage was preparing to receive a rather battered #2 machine, after world championship leader Lewis Hamilton became the biggest victim of the tricky surface, binning his car against the tyre wall exiting turn three. The Briton almost caught the first slide, but the slick track then pitched him onto the grass and heavily into the barriers, ripping off the nose and left rear corner. A dejected driver confirmed that he was unhurt, but faces a race against time to make it out in the day's second session, with McLaren anxious to continue evaluating its blown diffuser.
The mixed-up order paired Sebastian Vettel with fellow countryman Timo Glock in eleventh and twelfth, the Red Bull and Virgin actually recording identical times at 1min 28.735secs, but Vettel getting the nod having set his earliest. The double race winner set the initial pace along with team-mate Mark Webber as RBR attempted to collect vital wet weather data on a weekend where the forecast does not look too promising.
Hamilton's 17th places was only 'bettered' by Fernando Alonso's 19th and Michael Schumacher's 23rd, while stand-ins Fairuz Fauzy and Sakon Yamamoto slotted in 21st and 24th respectively.