Hamilton fastest in second practice
Lewis Hamilton once more came to the fore in a Practice Two session to head Nico Rosberg as Mercedes season-long duopoly on the timesheet remained intact at the end of the first day following F1’s FRIC ‘ban’ at the German GP.
However, in an intriguing development which could point to a closer challenge from the chasing pack behind this weekend, Red Bull closed down Mercedes' Hockenheim advantage to just a tenth of a second amid scorching afternoon temperatures in western Germany.
Whether the World Championship leaders, as widely forecast, have lost more performance from the demise of the grid-wise trick suspension system, or the engine management software changes Renault have brought to the race weekend have delivered significant improvements to Red Bull's RB10, the pace gap between the top two in the Constructors' Championship was noticeably closer on both short and long runs than at the last two events.
"They did look as if they were definitely better off than what they've been previously, especially in the longer race pace, and that's a good thing," observed Sky Sports F1's Johnny Herbert afterwards. "Hopefully we have a race on our hands."
Still, Mercedes' latest one-two underlined the task would-be challengers face in toppling the German marque on home soil this weekend and there's certainly reasonable evidence to suggest that the gap at the top of the timesheet was distorted by neither Mercedes driver fully exploiting the W05's pace on their respective supersoft tyre runs.
Hamilton's benchmark 1:18.341 lap was 0.024 seconds quicker than Rosberg's - the lead Mercedes in P1 - but the Briton encountered traffic in the final sector of his lap and, more significantly, the championship leader's time came on his less-optimal second flying effort on the red-marked tyre.
With the blazing 50-degree-plus track temperatures causing the supersoft in particular to overheat and lose peak performance quickly, Rosberg would therefore likely have lapped a few tenths faster first time round had he not run off the circuit after outbraking himself at Turn Two.
"I don't feel so bad, it was a pretty good day," Hamilton, who has now topped four straight P2 sessions, told Sky F1. "Lots to learn - the temperature is so high that it's very difficult for the tyres and this will probably be one of the hardest races to manage the tyres.
"Pole is important everywhere we go. There's a long run down to Turn Six so there are, perhaps, opportunities if you are second, but it does make it easier if you are on pole."
The chances of Red Bull, for the first time this year in dry conditions, proving serious pole rivals remains perhaps a long shot, but their lead Friday runner Daniel Ricciardo nonetheless finished just one tenth of a second back on Hamilton. There was, however, an additional four-tenths of a second difference back to Kimi Raikkonen who, for one of the few times in his disappointing season, proved the lead Ferrari in fourth place.
After trialling a new front-wing on Friday, Kevin Magnussen gave steadily-improving McLaren further encouragement by outpacing Felipe Massa's Williams in fifth place, although the Brazilian did show particularly strong long-run speed late in the session.
Sebastian Vettel, eighth behind Jenson Button, was eight tenths slower than Red Bull team-mate Ricciardo on the timesheet but appeared to have the legs on the in-form Australian over the longer distance with some impressive heavy-fuel laptimes in both sessions.
Fernando Alonso, who lost early time in the session after apparent telemetry problems in the Ferrari garage, rounded out the top ten alongside the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas after less-than-ideal qualifying simulations for both men.
Practice Two, meanwhile, turned into another session to forget for beleaguered Caterham as Marcus Ericsson stopped with an oil pressure problem after just one flying lap and Kamui Kobayashi was forced to make a swift exit from his CT05 after it caught fire at the rear.