World title contenders Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton were pushed into the shade on the opening day at Interlagos, as Fernando Alonso posted the fastest time across the first two sessions of the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend.
Although the Friday of most grands prix rarely carried much meaning as teams work through their own pre-determined programmes, Alonso underlined that he could be a spoiler in the championship battle as Renault continues its late-season upturn. The Spaniard posted a second session time of 1min 12.260 secs to edge Massa's FP1 best into second spot, while Hamilton managed only the ninth-best time of the afternoon, but managed to hold on to fourth overall after failing to improve on his earlier mark.
Massa ended the afternoon session second to Alonso by 0.057secs, but his morning time left the margin at a slimmer 0.011secs as an overcast and damp day drew to a close. The Brazilian will start the weekend as favourite for race honours, however, even if Hamilton - who needs only fifth place on Sunday - holds the upper hand championship-wise.
The Briton and McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen languished down the order in the afternoon, the Finn troubled by his suspension set-up and winding up 15th fastest in the session and only 13th overall despite his morning time being some three-tenths better. Countryman Kimi Raikkonen, who will be expected to play a similar 'wingman' role for Massa in the title fight, wound up fifth fastest after also failing to improve after lunch.
That allowed Jarno Trulli to sneak into the top three overall after picking up pace in the second session. In all, the Italian found 1.2secs between sessions to throw Toyota into the mix for points on Sunday. Team-mate Timo Glock had set the early afternoon pace before slipping back to 14th spot.
Although the field was covered by a reduced margin of 1.395secs, compared to the 2.516secs of session one, the order gave little away, with Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel - another to improve dramatically in the second 90-minute session - Nelson Piquet Jr, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica filling out the top ten..
Kazuki Nakajima broke into the top ten in the afternoon session, but had to settle for eleventh overall as Kubica called on his fourth-best morning time to move up the order, while David Coulthard took twelfth overall after finding time in his specially-liveried Wings for Life/Red Bull entry after the break.
That lifted the soon-to-retire Scot ahead of Kovalainen, Nick Heidfeld, Glock, Rubens Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais, Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella in the overall order.