If anyone thought that Sebastian Vettel may have a fight on his hands in order to win his home grand prix, they were made to think again when the German set the fastest time of final practice at the Nurburgring.
Vettel, who leads the championship standings by 80 points from Red Bull Racing team-mate Mark Webber but had to settle for second behind Fernando Alonso at Silverstone last time out, waited until the chequered flag before setting his best lap, but ended the 60-minute session more than a tenth clear of the Australian, with Alonso a further tenth back in third spot.
The same trio have filled the top three places in each session so far, and it would appear that they will be favourite to feature on the podium on Sunday unless fate intervenes. The order, however, may still be up for debate, with Saturday afternoon's qualifying session proving potentially crucial. Vettel's lap set a new benchmark for the weekend, lowering Webber's previous target to 1min 30.916secs, with the next five drivers within a second. Alonso, meanwhile, had stopped running before the end of the session, suggesting that he either had a problem or knew that there was more to come from his Ferrari and wanted to keep his powder dry for qualifying.
Behind the Spaniard, there was slightly better news for McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, as both got to within that mark, but the MP4-26, while improved, was still no match for either the Red Bull or Ferrari and looks set to confirm Hamilton's fears that, without rain, the Woking team will not be a factor in the battle for pole or victory.
The only other driver within a second of the pace was Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, who led the session early on. The young German was close to both McLarens on pace, and could be a threat for row two if qualifying goes to plan. Team-mate Michael Schumacher was three places further back, behind both Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil, but was hampered early on by a KERS malfunction.
Completing the top ten, Pastor Maldonado gave Williams a little hope but, with the Renaults of Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld sandwiching the second Force India of Paul di Resta in his immediate wake, the battle for a spot in the pole position shoot-out looks to be one of the closest of the day, with the other Williams of Rubens Barrichello not far away, and the two Saubers showing a little upturn in pace to move ahead of Toro Rosso.
Heikki Kovalainen defied a late start to the session, courtesy of hydraulic problems, to again lead the 'third division', with Timo Glock and Tonio Liuzzi ensuring that the Finn was pursued by both Virgin and HRT. Karun Chandhok, in the second Lotus this weekend instead of Jarno Trulli, continued to struggle in adapting to the T128's brakes and both spun and flat-spotted further sets of tyres during the session, but should gain a little in qualifying with Liuzzi scheduled to take a five-place gearbox change penalty.