P2: Maldonado tops rain-hit session
Two rain showers play ensure teams get no slick running
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 21/07/12 7:09am
Williams' Pastor Maldonado dodged further rain showers on Friday afternoon at Hockenheim to end a thoroughly inconclusive opening day of the German Grand Prix on top of the timesheet.
Any hopes that teams had of enjoying a sustained window of dry running during Practice Two in wake of the morning's intermittent rain were left disappointed, and no doubt rather frustrated, as bursts of rain bookended the afternoon session and ensured the track was never quite dry enough for slick tyres.
The first, and heaviest shower of the day, arrived just before the second session was due to get underway, initially soaking the Hockenheim layout. Yet once cars came out onto the circuit on the extreme wet tyres following the 20-minute mark, the racing line dried surprisingly quickly to the point where drivers could at least switch to the shallower intermediate tyres for some sustained running.
Inevitably during this period the timesheet resembled a fruit machine with the fastest times changing hands almost every few seconds, with the best times coming down from an initial 25 seconds off Jenson Button's morning pace to a mere 11 seconds.
Track position was therefore more important than a car's outright speed and Maldonado had just gone fastest of all on a 1:27.476 before a second, albeit lighter, shower hit with half an hour left on the clock to conclusively dash hopes of any later changes to the order.
With the timesheet proving even more academic than is usually the case on a Friday, Nico Rosberg nonetheless capped a promising opening day to their home Grand Prix for Mercedes in second place - 0.088s back on Maldonado - with World Champion Sebastian Vettel third for Red Bull.
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As is becoming his trademark, Sauber's Sergio Perez ran strongly in the mixed conditions to take fourth ahead of Lotus' Romain Grosjean, Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo.
While undoubtedly frustrating for the whole field, the stop-start rain was particularly annoying for McLaren given the need for consistent dry conditions to really assess the impact of the suite of upgrades they have added to the MP4-27 for this weekend. Morning pacesetters Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton completed 16 laps apiece and finished in unrepresentative positions of eighth and 20th respectively.
Some of the morning's other stronger runners, Ferrari's Fernando Alonso (20th) and Michael Schumacher (23rd), also found themselves among the also-rans - although for the latter of bigger consequence was a heavy crash right at the end of the session which caused major damage to both the front and rear of his Mercedes.
While some drivers, including Grosjean and Hamilton, had called a halt to their respective day's work following the late showers, Schumacher was one of several drivers to venture back out onto the slippery circuit in the closing minutes and was left to regret that decision as, coming into the Stadium Section, he lost the back end of his W03 over a wet kerb and slid into the inside tyre barriers, ripping off his car's front wing and then rear suspension as the back of the car came round.
The 43-year-old clambered out unscathed and will hope to avoid a similar incident in Saturday's Qualifying session, when conditions are currently forecast to also be wet.
Just minutes earlier Ricciardo had an 'off of his own at the next corner several minutes, although the Australian had simply run wide and his Toro Rosso came to a more gradual halt in the gravel before he reached the outside wall.