Local favourite Felipe Massa defied the sort of conditions designed to catch him and Ferrari out to set the early pace in Brazilian Grand Prix practice at Interlagos.

The Formula One title outsider clocked a best lap of 1min 12.305secs to head championship leader Lewis Hamilton - who has just to finish in the top five on raceday - by 0.190secs after 90 minutes of action on the Sao Paolo circuit, with conditions threatening rain without ever producing much more than misty drizzle that kept the surface tricky, if not ever fully wet.

The top of the timesheets was populated by a host of familiar faces, with Massa's Ferrari team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen third fastest, ahead of Robert Kubica - who had remained in title contention until China - and Hamilton's McLaren 'wingman', Heikki Kovalainen. Hamilton set the initial pace, but was destined to slip back to second as Massa popped in his crowd-pleasing lap in the closing stages, while the rest for jostled for position in a relatively quiet session.

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Behind Kovalainen, Fernando Alonso kept a watching brief ahead of what could prove to be a decisive role in Sunday's proceedings, with Mark Webber and Nelson Piquet Jr - seventh and eighth respectively - proving that there was little for Renault to fear from Interlagos' altitude. Nick Heidfeld and Timo Glock completed the top half of the order for BMW Sauber and Toyota, with the out-going GP2 champion's team-mate, Jarno Trulli, eleventh fastest.

While Nico Rosberg and Sebastien Bourdais loitered just outside the top ten for potential midfield leaders Williams and Toro Rosso, there was some early encouragement for Honda, which managed to squeeze both Rubens Barrichello - possibly entering his last weekend with the team - and Jenson Button ahead of Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastian Vettel.

David Coulthard, definitely in his final grand prix weekend, headed the two Force India entries at the tail of a field in which the 20 drivers were strung out over two-and-a-half seconds. Raikkonen was the only man to overstep the limit, spinning at turn two.