SILVERSTONE, England, July 6, 2012 (AFP) - Frenchman Romain Grosjean topped the times in Friday's rain-swept opening free practice session for this weekend's British Grand Prix, the Lotus driver clocking a best lap of one minute and 56.552 seconds.
This left him just clear of nearest rival Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso by two-tenths of a second with local favourite Briton Lewis Hamilton six-tenths of a second behind in third for McLaren.
Incessant heavy rain, however, reduced the session to little more than a meaningless series of brave ventures to entertain a larger than expected crowd with several grandstands sold out.
The Ferrari of championship leader Spaniard Fernando Alonso did not go out at all and his team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa only ventured into the storm in the final seconds.
Defending double world champion German Sebastian Vettel was down in 11th for Red Bull and his team-mate Australian Mark Webber clocked the sixth best time.
The heavy rain persuaded most of the field that the weekend is set to be dominated by downpours and a wet race is probable on Sunday, a prospect that delighted veteran German Michael Schumacher, the seven-times champion, who made clear he fancied his chances of claiming another podium finish for Mercedes.
"I don't mind if it rains, that might make it very nice, very interesting for me," he grinned. "I like the wet races."
The washout conditions are certain to play havoc with all predictions in this year of the unexpected and scupper Vettel's hopes of capitalising on a strong showing at Valencia in the European Grand Prix where he looked very fast before being forced to retire with an alternator problem.
Many in the pit lane believed that Vettel's dominant performance in qualifying and race in Spain suggested that Red Bull's technical chief Briton Adrian Newey had discovered a new design secret that had added significant pace to their car.
The Red Bull drivers dismissed the idea of a new spell of supremacy.Webber said: "Everything came together and for sure we didn't make the car slower in Valencia, but it was a step in the right direction.
"But we're not kidding ourselves we're going to drive away from the field. We know that's not going to be the case."
Despite Red Bull's improvement and their denials, there was also relief in the pit lane among their rivals when it was revealed that Vettel, who has claimed 22 wins in his 89 races to date, has yet to win a Grand Prix in the month of July.
Hamilton's McLaren team-mate and fellow-Briton Jenson Button was delighted to learn of this and said: "Awesome.That's a really good stat!"