Michael Schumacher reprised his role as F1's regenmeister by topping the times in a rain-hit opening free practice session at the Korean Grand Prix.
The German, who has shown improving form in the second half of the 2011 season, made the most of an inconclusive session, in which several leading runners decided not to risk themselves or their machinery, and others completed just a handful of installation laps. As a result, second-placed Sebastian Vettel aside, the pace was set by the unlikely line-up of Paul di Resta, Adrian Sutil, Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi.
With rain having been forecast for the opening day of round 16, the session began quietly, with little on-track action for more than a third of the scheduled 90 minutes before cars began trickling onto the circuit, Such was the lack of improvement in conditions, however, that Lewis Hamilton's token effort as first man out would remain good for seventh spot on the final timesheets.
Once the Briton has taken the lead in venturing out, however, the majority of the field followed suit, with more and more cars taking to the track as the minutes ticked down towards the chequered flag. Only Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov, Heikki Kovalainen and Japanese Grand Prix winner Jenson Button 'failed' to set a time, with all bar Alonso completing just a solitary installation lap. The Spaniard, meanwhile, appeared five times, but each run consisted off a single out-lap before he returned to the sanctuary of the pits.
Buemi usurped Hamilton's 2min 03.391secs effort at the head of the times and remained there for a while before Red Bull stable-mate - and newly-crowned world champion - Vettel moved to P1, replacing the Swiss driver's 2min 03.182secs with his own 2min 02.852secs lap. Schumacher then upped the ante by just under a tenth, posting a 2min 02.784secs lap that would prove good enough to keep him top of the pile until the afternoon session. Vettel, meanwhile, came close to toppling his countryman - with whom he apparently enjoyed celebrating his second world title in Japan - but fell just short.
Force India pair Sutil and di Resta also moved ahead of Buemi before the flag fell, with the Briton narrowly getting the better of his team-mate, while Kobayashi edged ahead of Hamilton to claim sixth. Nico Rosberg, Sergio Perez and Mark Webber rounded out the top ten in a session where few drivers completed double figure lap totals. HRT duo Narain Karthikeyan and Daniel Ricciardo covered the greatest distance, notching up 14 laps apiece, but filled only 15th and 16th places.
Karthikeyan is unlikely to return in FP2, having run only to prepare himself for an appearance at his home grand prix in two weeks, but the Indian was not alone in making a cameo in Korea, with Team Lotus fielding Karun Chandhok in place of Jarno Trulli and Toro Rosso making good on its promise to try out Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne during the opening session. Chandhok, whose appearances have been blighted by rain in 2011, wound up eleventh fastest, with Vergne - who last weekend clinched second overall in the World Series by Renault - was just two places further back on his first F1 outing since last autumn's Abu Dhabi 'young driver' test.
While track conditions proved tricky for all, returning to the pits also caught more than a few unaware, as a large puddle in the entry saw both Schumacher and Kobayashi, amongst others, take unintended detours as they returned at the end of the session.....