Will the heavens open for Hamilton?

lrg-4072-f1gpgermany01876Hamilton at home as showers intervene in Nurburgring practice.

Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren mechanics will be making room for a rain dance in their pre-race briefing at the Nurburgring after the Hamilton-McLaren package, significantly revised for Mercedes-Benz’s home race topped the timesheets for only the third time this season during a damp Friday practice at the Eifel circuit.

Hamilton, who has struggled to score points this year let alone muster a title defence after McLaren went the wrong way with the development of the MP4-24, reminded his rivals of his presence in this year’s show with an impressive early pace at the Nurburgring; one that is unlikely to topple home favourite Sebastian Vettel and championship leader Jenson Button, but which could prove decisive if rain arrives on Sunday, as forecasted.

Assisted by a revised McLaren package featuring a new front wing and an intricately designed double diffuser, the defending world champion posted a 1m32.149 in the closing stages of practice two, enough to edge out Vettel and Button for the top spot – and keep the Mercedes-Benz representatives happy.

Showers prevented anyone challenging Hamilton’s time in the final ten minutes of the session taking the shine off his laptime somewhat as that is the period when most drivers make low fuel runs in qualifying trim.

Even so, the improvement from McLaren is both significant and genuine, and with heavy rain predicted for Sunday’s race, Hamilton, his wet-weather skills, and the improved MP4-24, could cause an upset. Hamilton is refusing to get carried away though.

“We ve still got a long way to go but, most importantly, these new upgrades are pushing us in the right direction,” he said. “It s a work in progress, but the guys back at the factory have done an incredible job to get these parts to the circuit I ve even heard of one guy working a 36-hour non-stop shift to build these parts, which is incredible.”

“Hopefully we ll now do our job at the track and try to keep everything moving forward. It s still early days, and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, but I m hopeful of being able to get into Q3 tomorrow and look at scoring a couple of points on Sunday afternoon.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh conceded: “I m sure we ve yet to see the strongest efforts from Red Bull Racing and Brawn GP, I think there are good signs of an improvement.”

Indeed, a wet race would be equally welcome for Sebastian Vettel who is looking to become the first German driver to win his home grand prix since Michael Schumacher in 2006 – but far more importantly close the gap to championship leader Jenson Button.

The Red Bull driver stopped out on track with an electrical problem in the morning warm up before setting the pace in the afternoon, second only to Hamilton and pipping Button by a tenth of a second.

“We had a problem in the morning when the engine cut off in Turn One, so we lost quite a lot of track time,” Vettel explained afterwards. “Thankfully it was dry again this afternoon, so the overall loss was not that big. It was quite tricky this afternoon as the circuit was still very slippery, making it hard to get a good lap and bringing the tyres in seems to be very crucial here.”

“On top of that, the wind is very heavy and is playing some tricks, especially during braking in the last sector, but I think we have a good car, so I m looking forward to tomorrow. Obviously, we still have plenty of work to do. We ve done a lot of testing today so we will look now at what s best in order to be well prepared for qualifying.”

Jenson Button will be looking to beat Vettel at his home race after the German trounced him at Silverstone a fortnight ago. The Brawn team have been struggling with a lack of front end grip and would ideally prefer hotter conditions for Sunday’s race.

“We had a reasonable day and were able to make good progress on the set-up of the car,” said Button. “We are still lacking in a few areas that we need to look at overnight and make improvements but overall today was a pretty good start to the weekend.”

“The main problem is the cold conditions. The air temperature is almost what you would expect in winter testing and the low track temperatures are causing problems with the harder prime tyre so we will struggle with that tyre if it stays like this.”

Dry conditions are expected for qualifying tomorrow which should enable Button to gun for pole. The opening qualifying session could also claim a high profile victim or two with usual back markers Force India’s running strongly in practice.