Hamilton sets pace in Hockenheim

Lewis Hamilton continued from where he left off at Silverstone by setting the fastest time in first practice for Sunday's German Grand Prix.

The McLaren star has been on a high since his victory on home soil in the British Grand Prix 12 days ago to take up the lead of the Formula One world championship.

Although currently in a three-way tie with Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, Hamilton has the edge on countback, and he is now determined to make it an outright advantage come Sunday.

Hamilton posted his hot lap as the chequered flag emerged at the end of the 90 minutes, pipping team-mate Heikki Kovalainen and Massa as the trio had traded fastest times in the closing stages on a drying Hockenheim track.

The conditions at the start of the session were a throw-back to the race at Silverstone when Hamilton reigned in the rain.

Hamilton dominated, winning the race by over a minute from Nick Heidfeld to pick up the mantle as the sport's new wet-weather king.

Grey skies and heavy rain over a circuit that is normally bathed in sunshine at this time of the year will have served as a surprise to many.

Lap times were initially in the low-to-mid one minute thirties, but as the rain relented and the quick tyres were applied, so those times naturally tumbled.

Yet unlike at Silverstone where cars endured spin after spin, there was only one main casualty, that of title contender Robert Kubica.

On a virtually dry track and with 13 minutes remaining, the Pole lost control of his BMW Sauber on entry into the Agip Kurve.

Kubica then slid sideways through the gravel and into a tyre barrier, finishing 19th, over 3.2secs down on Hamilton who set a time of 1:15.537.

Kovalainen was forced to settle for second, 0.129secs behind, although was plum last with just under 10 minutes remaining.

Third-placed Massa was a quarter of a second adrift, with the three drivers on their own as Fernando Alonso in his Renault was down in fourth with a time of 1:16.163, with Raikkonen 0.790secs off the pace.

Williams' Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel in his Toro Rosso were sixth and seventh and over a second off Hamilton, followed by Nick Heidfeld for BMW Sauber.

Kazuki Nakajima for Williams and Renault's Nelson Piquet rounded out the top 10, with David Coulthard and Jenson Button 11th and 12th for Red Bull and Honda respectively, 1.5secs down.

Sebastien Bourdais was the slowest, almost six seconds adrift, but only because his session came to a close 31 minutes before the end due to a problem with his Toro Rosso.

Times from the first free practice session on Friday ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim:

1. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) McLaren 1 min 15.537 secs

2. Heikki Kovalainen (Finland) McLaren 1:15.666

3. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Ferrari 1:15.796

4. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault 1:16.163

5. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1:16.327

6. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Williams - Toyota 1:16.606

7. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1:16.618

8. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) BMW Sauber 1:16.719

9. Kazuki Nakajima (Japan) Williams - Toyota 1:16.821

10. Nelson Piquet (Brazil) Renault 1:17.063

11. David Coulthard (Britain) RedBull - Renault 1:17.108

12. Jenson Button (Britain) Honda 1:17.131

13. Timo Glock (Germany) Toyota 1:17.185

14. Mark Webber (Australia) RedBull - Renault 1:17.268

15. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Force India - Ferrari 1:17.471

16. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Honda 1:17.500

17. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Toyota 1:17.556

18. Adrian Sutil (Germany) Force India - Ferrari 1:17.784

19. Robert Kubica (Poland) BMW Sauber 1:18.779

20. Sebastien Bourdais (France) Toro Rosso - Ferrari 1:21.506