Lewis Hamilton will hope he has started as he means to go on following first practice for the European Grand Prix when he denied arch-rival Kimi Raikkonen the fastest time in the final minutes of the session with a comfortable benchmark.

Returning to the scene of one of his finest motorsport moments when he won both GP2 races in 2006, former Formula 3 Euroseries driver Hamilton wasted no time in getting acclimatised again to the Eifel Mountain surrounded circuit, setting the pace for the majority of the 90-minute session.

Keen to re-establish their authority over Ferrari again this weekend, Hamilton ensured first blood went to McLaren with an impressive final lap that saw him emerge a good two tenths up on the Finn.

Raikkonen had looked to be heading for the early edge when he jumped up from the fifth place he had been occupying for much of the session in the final ten minutes. However, his best was not good enough for first in the end and he was forced to trail Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso was another to experience a rather low-key session before making his presence felt in the final minutes, eventually emerging third quickest, a further two tenths behind Raikkonen and only just ahead of the BMWs.

Indeed, with BMW keen to impress on home ground, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica swapped places inside the top three constantly before finishing off in fourth and fifth. They will be encouraged though to be mixing it with McLaren and Ferrari, especially as they were able to out pace sixth place Felipe Massa too, the Brazilian a full second behind the leaders.

If the top six positions are all but a foregone conclusion, then the battle is on for those behind with Ralf Schumacher leading the way in his Toyota, albeit some 1.3secs off the ultimate pace.

Honda will be encouraged to see the newly re-signed Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello inside the top ten in eighth and tenth, not least because it leaves them well ahead of Renault, Williams and, perhaps most crucially, Super Aguri. Red Bull got in on the act too with David Coulthard setting the ninth fastest time having spent the first half of the session languished in the lower positions.

Jarno Trulli was eleventh fastest, with Alex Wurz as the best of the Williams' in 12th, while team-mate Nico Rosberg followed closely in 13th position. Anthony Davidson spent the last few minutes climbing the leaderboard to eventually emerge in 14th fastest, ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber and Aguri team-mate Takuma Sato.

Perhaps the most notable absence from the leading positions though was Renault, who found themselves well down in the order 18th and 19th positions, Heikki Kovalainen leading Giancarlo Fisichella. With both 2.4 and 2.5secs off the leaders, it is likely that the team are keen not to reveal their cards too early, despite what appears to be a startling lack of pace.

Spyker brought up the rear, Adrian Sutil ahead of newcomer Markus Winkelhock, the German a fair 4.6secs off the ultimate pace, even if he did slice four tenths off that margin in the closing stages as he continues to acclimatise to the car.

 

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