Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso set the pace
Jenson Button is optimistic that McLaren will be back fighting with Red Bull and Ferrari at the German Grand Prix after he and team-mate Lewis Hamilton both suffered at Silverstone last time out.
Button had to retire at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago after exiting the pits with a loose front wheel, while Hamilton was forced to slow down in the closing stages to save fuel.
The team came to Germany looking for positives and, even if Friday’s practice session did not give any indication of a recovery, Button is confident there will be no lasting damage done by the Silverstone result. “You get over it quick because the next one is just around the corner,” Button said. “It was my home grand prix so it was obviously disappointing that we didn’t get a good result.
“After the last race you move on and you come with a stronger car, which I think we will have here. You also come with a good atmosphere within the team and a positive attitude. None of the guys here are thinking about Silverstone now.”
The debate over the exhaust-blown diffuser that dominated the previous race has also been closed and Hamilton hoped this would benefit the team in Germany: “I feel optimistic about this weekend, I think the regulations definitely affected us more than others,” he said.
“The regulations have changed back to where we had been on engine modes so I think we should be on par with the others now on that side of things. Whether or not the car is quick as theirs, we’ll wait and see.”
Button, too, thought the rule-tweaking had been at least partly to Ferrari’s advantage in the previous race. “It obviously hurt us and it hurt Red Bull but I don’t think it hurt Ferrari so they stood out as being very competitive.”
With everyone on the same page of the rulebook, however, McLaren struggled where Ferrari still produced an impressive performance in practice. Fernando Alonso recorded a time of 1min 31.894sec in the first session which was the fastest of the morning, with his team-mate Felipe Massa fourth-fastest, sandwiching the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton and Button were fifth and sixth respectively.
In the second practice session, Mark Webber, who won here two years ago, had the advantage, and topped the timing screens with a lap of 1:31.711. But Ferrari were again strong, with Alonso and Massa quickest for some time before Webber went fastest just after the hour. It left a Red Bull and Ferrari top four again but this time the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg rounded out the top six. Hamilton was seventh and Button 11th, losing the final 20 minutes with an exhaust problem.
Alonso was keen to dispel any notion that the British race had been a one?off, saying: “First impressions from the car are good. I’ve said it before it’s not a case of a miracle having happened at Silverstone.”
Button was unsure how his performance would unfold. “It’s been a slightly frustrating day for me. I couldn’t get a good balance on the car this morning,” he said. “I think it will be difficult for us to beat the Red Bulls in qualifying.”
Hamilton, too, was equivocal: “We’ve got some updates on the car and they seem to be working, which is also positive. But it’s only Friday.”
If both drivers’ general optimism is to be justified they will expect a little better on Saturday, though it may be compromised. A 75% chance of rain is predicted for the weekend and, despite heavy falls all week, Friday’s practice was entirely dry, so no team has yet had any running in the cold and wet.
If this comes it may hamper Ferrari. Alonso said: “In theory, the cold is not a friend to us: in these conditions the Red Bull has even more of an edge.”