He may have ended up just fourth on the end-of-day timesheets - and a lowly ninth in the afternoon session - but Formula 1 World Champion-elect Lewis Hamilton nevertheless sent a warning out to title rival Felipe Massa following the opening day of practice at Interlagos that his car is 'blindingly quick'.

The McLaren-Mercedes star needs to finish just fifth or better in the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday - regardless of where his Ferrari adversary takes the chequered flag - in order to be crowned both the youngest-ever and also first black world champion in the sport's 58-year history.

Though he trailed Massa by one position and almost two tenths of a second in the morning running, and seven spots and almost half a second in the afternoon, the British ace was in buoyant spirits at the close of proceedings on day one.

"Our car was blindingly quick this morning," the 23-year-old enthused after winding up fourth overall, "despite the cold weather which made the track feel quite slippery. This afternoon we focused on our race pace - but we were interrupted by the threat of rain and the changeable wind direction.

"I flat-spotted my tyres on a couple of runs, but I'm positive that the changes we've made will put us in a good position for tomorrow."

Hamilton will be relying on strong support this weekend from team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who endured his first F1 retirement when he spun into the barriers as early as lap three in S?o Paulo for Renault this time last year. The Finn placed fifth in the morning session this time around but only 15th later on, leaving himself just 13th in the final reckoning. He remained, however, unconcerned.

"A decent Friday practice session," the recently-turned 27-year-old underlined, "and we now have a good understanding of tyre performance following our comparison work and evaluation.

"We were fine-tuning the balance of the car all the time and the outcome makes me happy, although this isn't reflected in the fastest lap times. We've found a good baseline to work on for the rest of the weekend."

McLaren needs to beat arch-rivals Ferrari by at least twelve points this weekend if it is to steal the constructors' laurels from underneath the Scuderia's nose, but equally the Woking-based concern needs to be aware of the threat from BMW-Sauber just ten points behind - a fact far from lost on the multiple world championship-winning outfit's team principal Ron Dennis.

"Today was a slightly tricky day for many of the teams," the 61-year-old stated. "Graining, particularly of the option tyre, was a particular problem with the less-than-optimal track temperatures caused by the inclement weather conditions. In fact, we suspect that some teams may have dropped their fuel loads in an effort to nullify that problem, but we didn't.

"Instead we adhered to a disciplined programme, all the while assessing our race-able options. We made steady progress with our understanding of the available downforce levels, tyre choices and brake materials, and we feel confident that the lessons we learned today will pay dividends on Sunday."

"This was certainly not one of the better 2008 Friday rankings for McLaren-Mercedes," acknowledged the three-pointed star's motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug, "but I doubt whether today's order represents Sunday's competitive situation.

"We had a conservative approach to the afternoon session to simulate extremes that can take place during the race on Sunday, but of course we still have to optimise both cars. I am confident we can qualify tomorrow in positions that will enable us to score the necessary points on Sunday."