British Grand Prix: Nico Rosberg emerges from spray as Mercedes underline Silverstone potential

Heavy rain meant cars and drivers stayed in garages till final 10 practice minutes

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The Independent Online

Nico Rosberg took advantage of a dry afternoon practice session to seemingly leave Mercedes as the team to beat in qualifying ahead of the British Grand Prix.

Mercedes claimed four pole positions in a row up until the last race in Canada earlier this month when it should have been five but for a mistake by Lewis Hamilton in the dying moments of his final hot lap.

On a fast, flowing track such as Silverstone, the expectation is for a front-row lock-out from Mercedes, for whom Rosberg led the way in the second 90-minute run after a near washout of FP1.

Heavy rain throughout resulted in cars and drivers staying in their garages until the closing 10 minutes when there was a flurry of activity, but even then only 11 drivers posted a time.

Mercifully, the rain relented ahead of FP2, although the track was still damp enough at the start that those who ventured out did so on either wet tyres or the intermediates.

Eventually the conditions improved enough for dry tyres to be used, including experimental rubber from Pirelli they have been looking to introduce in light of recent safety fears.

The track and the tyres certainly caught out Felipe Massa as, for the fourth time in three grands prix weekends, the Brazilian crashed his Ferrari, completing just seven laps and finishing 11 seconds adrift of Rosberg.

The German, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, posted a time of one minute 32.248secs, finishing almost a third of a second faster than Red Bull's Mark Webber, winner twice here in the last three years.

Reigning triple world champion Sebastian Vettel was just over four tenths of a second down, with Force India's Paul Di Resta the best of the Britons in fourth, with Hamilton fifth on the timesheet, the duo 0.584secs and 0.663secs respectively behind Rosberg.

Seemingly vying to be Webber's replacement at Red Bull, Toro Rosso duo Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were an impressive sixth and seventh quickest, just over a second back.

Force India's Adrian Sutil, Romain Grosjean in his Lotus and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso completed the top 10, with the latter 1.246secs off the pace.

McLaren duo Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were 11th and 14th, either side of Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg and Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, who is also in contention to replace Webber.

On his British GP debut, aside from Massa, Marussia's Max Chilton was the slowest on track of those who completed the session, with the 22-year-old finishing five seconds down.