Button and Hamilton sing despite the rain

McLaren duo set the pace in practice while Schumacher endures worst possible start

The Formula One circus journeyed to Hockenheim expecting decent weather conditions, but endured déjà vu as rain yet again affected both practice sessions and kept everyone guessing on the right direction for what is likely to be another unpredictable weekend.

That ought to have been bad news for McLaren, who desperately wanted to validate a significant upgrade to the MP4-27 that was rendered an also-ran at Silverstone by a much less than optimal chassis set-up thanks to the vagaries of the British weather. Swap the accents and the hopeless traffic arrangements, and they could still have been back home, but yesterday there were solid signs of progress from the Woking team. Jenson Button set the fastest time in the first practice session after running when the track was at its best, but significantly Lewis Hamilton was second, and thus fastest of all the drivers when the conditions declined.

"We got some good running under our belts today," Button said. "Conditions weren't perfect, but the forecast looks the same for tomorrow; so it was a very useful day for us and we gathered some useful data in terms of comparative tyre and set-up work.

"Trying to get the tyres working is one of our main issues, so we spent a lot of time focusing on that – it wasn't all successful, but when things came together, our pace was good. We've still got some more work to do to be quick in the wet, but FP2 was a useful session in terms of telling us where we need to be heading.

"I think we should be happy with most of the parts we've put on today – most of them worked correctly – so it's nice to see the improvement. I want to say a big well done to the guys at the factory, they've done a great job. Hopefully we'll be able to see the improvement in performance throughout the rest of the weekend."

The upgrade includes revised sidepods and rear bodywork and changes to the exhaust system to make it more effective. Like Button, Hamilton believes there was discernible progress made.

"The men and women back at the factory did an incredible job to get all the upgrades to the track this weekend – they all deserve a big pat on the back for that," he said. "It's quite a positive step: it's still difficult to predict accurately what sort of a step we've taken as we couldn't back-to-back between the old and new components, but it's definitely a step forward.

"Hopefully, we'll get more of an indication as the weekend progresses – although, with more wet weather predicted for tomorrow, it might not be until Sunday that we can really tell what we've got. Still, the car doesn't feel bad at all."

The afternoon session was a festival of sliding cars as most of the 24 drivers had dramas of one sort or another. Williams' Pastor Maldonaldo emerged at the front, though the worst affected was Michael Schumacher, who was desperate to do well on Mercedes' home soil and a close fourth in the morning.

The seven-time champion damaged his car after spinning, meaning he was only 23rd quickest. "That was obviously not part of the plan and I'm sorry that my mistake has given my guys even more work to do this evening," he said ruefully. "I lost a little concentration: we were talking on the radio and I was altering some settings at the same time. But that's all part of the game."

"It's tough in the wet out there," Hamilton said, "like driving around on an ice-rink – with puddles – but I feel positive that we can do something good this weekend."