Red Bull's Mark Webber edged out Fernando Alonso and got his own back on world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel by going quickest in the second practice session yesterday for the German Grand Prix.
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The Australian, ordered not to overtake runaway championship leader Vettel late in the recent British Grand Prix, surged round the dry track here in a best lap of 1min 31.711sec to outshine the German home favourite.
Ferrari's Alonso, who won at Silverstone, had topped the timesheets in the first practice (1:31.894) and was leading in the second session before finding the gravel and later skidding when trying to overtake.
Vettel was third fastest with Alonso's team-mate Felipe Massa fourth and seven-times champion Michael Schumacher fifth to the delight of the long-suffering Mercedes fans in the stands.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton was again over a second slower than the quickest driver for the second straight session with team-mate Jenson Button even worse after technical issues.
Afterwards, Hamilton ruled out pole position for McLaren this weekend and the 2008 world champion was also fined ¤1,200 (£1,060) for speeding in the pitlane. "We definitely can't challenge for pole. Having said that we don't know what fuel [load] they [rival teams] are on," he said.
"I think our race pace is perhaps closer than we had in the last race [at Silverstone] which is a good thing but over a single lap, they have definitely got about a second on us. We are pushing as hard as we can, the car's feeling pretty good."
While Hamilton was seventh quickest in the second session, Button could only manage the 11th best time with the pair now realising that any hope of a title tilt this year is all but over.
With 10 races remaining, both McLaren drivers are 95 points adrift of Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel. "It was one to forget, it's been a pretty tricky day," said Hamilton, fearing rain for today's qualifying and possibly tomorrow's race.
"All afternoon I haven't had KERS. I had a problem with the exhaust but it's a test part on the car and it failed."
The Britons had expected to be quicker this weekend than in their home Grand Prix after teams decided to revert to pre-Silverstone engine regulations after a row over the aerodynamic use of exhaust gases.
However, Ferrari remained faster even if little can be gleaned from practice with different set-ups and tyres being trialled.
Heavy showers and even a hailstorm had hit on Thursday but despite the usual threatening clouds in the Eifel mountains, the teams were able to get through their routines undisturbed.
Toro Rosso's Sébastien Buemi suffered the only big incident in the first outing when he spun off and failed to lodge a time in the second session because of engine trouble.
A decent crowd, which had earlier clogged the roads in the isolated area of western Germany, was in attendance with Force India reserve driver Nico Hülkenberg taking the first session instead of Paul di Resta, meaning seven Germans were on track.
Briton Di Resta returned for the second practice as did Vitantonio Liuzzi after reserve Narain Karthikeyan had taken the Hispania car out first.
Fellow Indian Karun Chandhok struggled for pace in the Team Lotus having been given the drive in place of Jarno Trulli on Thursday.