Lewis Hamilton reminded his critics – and perhaps even himself – of his talent when he dominated practice for tomorrow's Korean Grand Prix.
He and team-mate Jenson Button, the current hero of McLaren, swapped the fastest time as conditions improved slowly from rain and heavy spray to the vestige of a dry racing line.
Button set the early pace before Sebastian Vettel moved ahead. Button replied but was in turn beaten by Hamilton. Button's next response put him back ahead before Hamilton upped the ante again. Subsequently he improved to 1m 50.828s, and Button's best of 1m 50.932s left him 0.104s shy.
It was a much-needed fillip for Hamilton, who admits that he needs to do a better job tomorrow. He hasn't finished on the podium since he won the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring in July. He has also collided with rivals in the recent Belgium, Singapore and Japanese grands prix as Button's star has continued to rise. He is second in the world championship behind newly crowned Vettel, and won the race in Japan last weekend. Hamilton, meanwhile, lies fifth overall, and is desperate to rekindle the magic.
"Today's times don't really give us a relevant read on pace and set-up, particularly as the weather will be better for the next two days. Still, if it rains on Sunday then we're in a good position – which is a positive," Hamilton said.
"It would be great to get the pole here tomorrow: it's difficult to read too much into today's times – the lap on slicks at the end was impossible – but we are quick, the car is good and Jenson showed at the last race that we can be very competitive. So I have no doubt that we'll be able to challenge the Red Bulls in qualifying."
Button echoed his thoughts. "Our car was quick in today's conditions – but it's difficult to say how it will be in the dry. I hope it'll be the same: it'd be nice to have the same gap back to the cars behind, but that's unlikely.
"We didn't learn too much today – the track never really dried out. It looked like it was going to be dry right at the very end, but you couldn't get any grip from the slicks because you couldn't get any temperature into them."
McLaren's show of superiority was remarkable, as Vettel was left 1.818s behind them and only just ahead of Fernando Alonso's Ferrari. The German lapped in 1m 52.646s, the Spaniard 1m 52.774s. The most logical explanation is that McLaren ran lower fuel loads.
"It is no tougher than the other weekends," Vettel said. "McLaren looked strong but we have seen that a couple of times on a Friday, so it's hard to say."