Reigning Nurburgring F1 'champion' Mark Webber ended the opening day of the 2011 German Grand Prix meeting at the head of the pack after narrowly emerging fastest of all in Friday's free practice sessions.
Having had to give best to Ferrari's Fernando Alonso in the morning session, the Red Bull driver slipped inside the Spaniard's benchmark time to end the opening day 0.168secs to the good as he again revelled in the rise and fall of the Eifel circuit. Webber and Alonso were the only two drivers to better the Spaniard's morning session mark as chilly conditions prevailed once again, eventually giving way to the first smattering of rain as the 90 minutes drew to a close.
As a result, points leader Sebastian Vettel remained third fastest, even receiving a 'hurry up' from his engineer as he attempted to hunt down a time that could have put him ahead of Webber and Alonso. Instead, with the track not conducive for quicker times, he ended the day 0.373secs off his team-mate's best effort, with the second Ferrari of Felipe Massa a little closer than he had been in the opening session.
Behind the Brazilian, the order shuffled once again, with 'Team Germany' moving into the role of pursuer-in-chief as Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg claimed fifth and sixth on the timesheets. Neither driver was without incident, with Rosberg saving a high-speed moment after putting a wheel on the kerbs and Schumacher escaping a potential collision with a wayward Alonso, but will be happy to have overhauled McLaren, for whom Lewis Hamilton was seventh fastest.
The Woking team continues to come to grips with its car, but could only manage eleventh place with Jenson Button as the Briton found himself usurped by the Renaults of Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov, as well as the Force India of Adrian Sutil, who all pushed into the top ten. With Hamilton again the first driver to lap more than a second slower than the fastest time, and Button absent for the final 20 minutes with an exhaust issue, McLaren clearly still has its work cut out, at least in terms of qualifying pace.
The Renault duo proved closely matched despite each trying different exhaust solutions as the Enstone team ponders whether to ditch its revolutionary front exiting system, while Paul di Resta made light work of catching up after sitting out the opening session to end the day just 0.088secs shy of team-mate Sutil.
Sauber rookie Sergio Perez had clearly got to grips with the track layout over lunch, and was much tidier on his way to 13th spot, ahead of Rubens Barrichello, Jaime Alguersuari and team-mate Kamui Kobayashi. Alguersuari's Toro Rosso team-mate Sebastien Buemi, meanwhile, did not complete a flying lap after spinning out at the end of the morning session.
Heikki Kovalainen was again the best of the rest, albeit nearly a full second off the pace of Pastor Maldonado immediately ahead of him. The Finn was only four seconds off the overall pace, though, and will look to carry that through into qualifying on Saturday as he unequivocally leads Team Lotus alongside former reserve Karun Chandhok. Although Timo Glock improved for Marussia Virgin, the Indian again did well as stand-in for Jarno Trulli, and finished ahead of Jerome d'Ambrosio, and the twoo HRTs of Tonio Liuzzi and Daniel Ricciardo. While one Australian was able to smile at the end of the day, another was left to think about what might have been, as the Cosworth engine in Ricciardo's car let go in the early stages, sidelining him and costing valuable track time as he embarks on only his second weekend as a fully-fledged F1 race driver