Fernando Alonso set the fastest time in practice for the Brazilian Grand Prix, but he did so without dominating as all 20 cars ran within a second of each other on a rainy day at Interlagos.
The Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel showed more pace than expected, while the Brawns of Jenson Button and – especially – Rubens Barrichello also set reasonably competitive times.
A number of surprise faces also showed at the top of the standings, Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi running second-fastest overall and Kazuki Nakajima of Williams placing sixth in the morning session.
A rain-spattered first session saw the teams rush to put in some mileage before conditions grew too bad for sensible running. A busy first half-hour was topped initially by Kimi Raikkonen, then by Webber and Barrichello, and finally by Vettel as the rain worsened.
After a pause to let the shower pass, and a false start when Romain Grosjean ran wide in the damp and ploughed through a trackside board, the final 22 minutes belonged to Webber as more late rain cause Barrichello to spin and Buemi to hit the tyre wall.
In the end the Australian led the session with a 1min 12.463, in front of Barrichello and Vettel, with Heikki Kovalainen leading the two McLarens and Nakajima home ahead of Button.
In the afternoon session less than a second covered all the cars, even Giancarlo Fisichella’s Ferrari which stalled at the end of the pitlane forcing the Italian to miss the final batch of quick laps.
Alonso topped the timesheet with the day’s fastest lap, a 1min 12.314, snatching the position at the last gasp from Toro Rosso’s surprisingly pacy Buemi.
Barrichello’s third-place made him the best of the Brawns and Red Bulls, ahead of Webber and Button. Jarno Trulli took sixth ahead of Vettel, while the Ferraris were 18th and 20th. Toyota’s debutant Kamui Kobayashi added a creditable 13th to go with his 18th of the morning.
Barrichello said the Brawns had been working on set-up rather than looking for raw pace, while both Ross Brawn and Button suggested work was needed to ready the car for running single fast laps in qualifying, although the pace in longer runs was good.
Button said: “We achieved more running that we initially expected today with just a few little showers rather than the rain that was forecast. The car seems to be working well on the prime tyre which is encouraging and the pace was good.
“I’m struggling a little with the balance on the option tyre over one timed lap so hopefully we can resolve that overnight to be ready for qualifying.”
For McLaren, team boss Martin Whitmarsh was revelling in memories of Hamilton’s title triumph at the circuit last year: “It’s a great feeling to be back in Brazil and, in particular, here at Interlagos. This circuit holds some very happy memories for the whole team, and they came flooding back this morning once the sessions started.
“Interlagos hasn’t normally been a circuit where our race pace has been strong, but today’s running has certainly showed a remarkable level of consistency. Today’s times show that both Red Bulls look very strong, but we believe we’ll have a competitive racing car.”
Hamilton said: “We had a good Friday – we’re not the fastest, but our long runs appear to be quite consistent. In the past, we’ve always been quick in qualifying but not as quick in the race. KERS is worth close to four tenths in quali and around half that in the race, so I’m optimistic for tomorrow afternoon and think the consistency we showed today will reward us in the race.”
Practice two times
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:12.314 (27 laps)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:12.357 (45 laps)
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: 1:12.459 (38 laps)
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:12.514 (41 laps)
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP: 1:12.523 (45 laps)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:12.605 (37 laps)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1:12.611 (45 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:12.633 (42 laps)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:12.720 (35 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes: 1:12.749 (39 laps)
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 1:12.806 (27 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:12.862 (39 laps)
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota: 1:12.869 (40 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:12.929 (41 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:12.948 (38 laps)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:12.950 (36 laps)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:12.992 (39 laps)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:13.026 (42 laps)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:13.041 (40 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 1:13.275 (38 laps)
Practice one times
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:12.463 (29 laps)
- Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP: 1:12.874 (32 laps)
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 1: 12.932 (27 laps)
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:12.989 (25 laps)
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:13.048 (25 laps)
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:13.067 (21 laps)
- Jenson Button, Brawn GP: 1:13.141 (29 laps)
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:13.147 (23 laps)
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:13.232 (23 laps)
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:13.321 (24 laps)
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:13.326 (26 laps)
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:13.464 (28 laps)
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1:13.503 (24 laps)
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:13.563 (24 laps)
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Ferrari: 1:13.619 (23 laps)
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:13.787 (28 laps)
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1:13.829 (26 laps)
- Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota: 1:14.029 (27 laps)
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: 1:14.040 (38 laps)
- Romain Grosjean, Renault: 1:14.173 (23 laps)