Red Bull eager to turn up heat on Hamilton at Hockenheim
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg continued to lead the Formula One field here yesterday after practice sessions for tomorrow's German Grand Prix were characterised by sweltering heat which melted tyres and tempers.
However, Red Bull showed signs of putting the Mercedes drivers under serious pressure for the first time this season.
Hamilton, rejuvenated by his recent victory at Silverstone, pipped local hero Rosberg by just 0.024 seconds, while Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was just 0.102sec adrift of the Englishman.
"I think tyres and weather will define the race on Sunday," the ever-smiling Australian said.
"Today we were happy with our progress and it seems to be one of the closer gaps for a while, but it's tomorrow when we'll see how close we really are. I think we had a good car today and we extracted pretty much everything we could out of the practice today.
"Hopefully, we can have more of a fight with the leaders this weekend."
Friday times can be misleading because much depends on the specific programmes the teams run – these include fuel weight and aerodynamic settings which can change prior to qualifying – so the real story will only emerge later today, and then in the race.
However, there was no doubt about the quality of the job that Susie Wolff did when she drove Valtteri Bottas's Williams in yesterday morning's opening practice session.
The 31-year-old test driver from Oban is the first woman since Giovanna Amati in Brazil in 1992 to drive a car at an official grand prix meeting and she came to Hockenheim still smarting from the brutal disappointment at Silverstone, where her Mercedes engine lost its oil pressure after only four laps.
This time she worked calmly through a throttle problem and later set a lap time that was only two-tenths of a second slower than team-mate Felipe Massa, who recently took pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix.
After an extremely respectable performance in which she staked her claim to race at this highest level, one of Wolff's primary feelings was relief: "I hate to talk about things and then not be able to deliver. So once we'd worked through the problem with the throttle I was able to get down to business and carry out my part of the team's programme for the session. I'm really pleased with how things went."
Red Bull headed to Hockenheim as one of the teams which had the highest hopes that Mercedes might have lost some of their advantage with the ban on inter-connection between front and rear suspension systems. The ban was introduced by the FIA after the British GP on the grounds that they constituted an illegal moving aerodynamic aid. Mercedes' system was believed to have been the most advanced, helping to maintain the car's attitude and to control tyre wear.
Rosberg acknowledged that it was difficult reoptimising the cars around conventional suspension, but Hamilton said: "It was a pretty good day. It was quite difficult to find the balance with the track being so hot, and this is a tricky circuit to drive.
"The car is a bit different now as everyone made some set-up changes in a different direction to what we've had in the past, but it's still fun to drive.
"As the temperatures were so high, it was difficult for the tyres and we're going to need to manage that carefully when we get to the race.
"The weather is beautiful and the heat was a challenge, but that's how I like it. We need to analyse as much as we can tonight and drink plenty, as it's going to stay hot." (© Independent News Service)
GERMAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING, LIVE, SKY SPORTS F1/SETANTA IRL, 12.00pm/12.55pm