HOCKENHEIM - Lewis Hamilton shrugged off on-track temperatures of over 50 degrees to clock the fastest lap in practice for this weekend’s German Grand Prix, the Briton outpacing Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Nico Rosberg.

On a scorching hot day at the Hockenheim circuit, with air temperatures touching 34 degrees Celsius and the track temperature reaching 58 degrees, the Mercedes men were again in a class of their own as they continued their battle for this year’s world championship. Hamilton, who cut Rosberg’s championship lead to four points by winning the British Grand Prix two weeks ago when the German suffered his first retirement of the season, clocked a best lap of one minute 18.341 seconds. That put him 0.024 seconds ahead of Rosberg.

“That was ok, pretty good,” said Hamilton. “The temperatures are so high that it was very difficult with the tyres, but we learned a lot in that session. As usual qualifying is going to be very important like it is at every circuit we go to.” Hamilton and Rosberg admitted they faced a challenge to retain their competitive advantage after running without their FRIC suspension system. It was the first time they, or any team, had run without the ‘front to rear interlinked suspension system’, dubbed as FRIC, used to help with self-levelling of the car during a lap of the track.

“Finding the sweet spot with the car is just in a different place now. So we’re really trying to get that right,” said Hamilton. He added that the hot conditions had made it a challenging day also for the soft compound Pirelli tyres used. “It was difficult to find the balance with the track being so hot - and it’s quite a tricky circuit in general,” he said.

 “The car’s a little bit different now because everyone’s made some changes. The set-up is in a different direction to what we had in the past, but it’s still good fun to drive.”

Rosberg said he felt that the loss of FRIC would change the order that had dominated the opening half of the season. “For sure it will shuffle things around a little bit without this FRIC system. There are some new challenges now — to re-balance the car and figure my way out to get happy in the car,” said Rosberg who arrived at Hockenheim buoyed by a new contract and his recent wedding. Australian Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest in the leading Red Bull, once again proving he has the pace to deserve his place among the elite, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.

Danish rookie Jan Magnussen was fifth for the improving McLaren team ahead of Felipe Massa, of Williams, Jenson Button in the second McLaren and defending four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull. Two-time champion Fernando Alonso was down in ninth for Ferrari after a promising morning session. Ricciardo said he felt he and his Red Bull team had done their utmost on Friday and had held nothing back, as they had on some previous Friday practice days this year. He was only a tenth of a second slower than the Mercedes men.

“Unlike other Fridays I don’t think we have got half a second in the car,” said Ricciardo.  “We have extracted pretty much all of it today — so let’s see.” The session saw the conditions take their toll on some teams with Japanese Kamui Kobayashi of Caterham suffering a close encounter with danger when his car burst into flames. He jumped clear as smoke poured from the rear of his car and then ran back with several marshals, armed with fire extinguishers, to extinguish the flames.

Earlier, in the morning session, Susie Wolff, the first woman to take part in a Formula One weekend for 22 years, had impressed for Williams by finishing 15th in opening practice topped by Rosberg. She was only 0.2 seconds slower than her team-mate Massa after a technical problem on her opening lap. “It was tough at the beginning, but so nice to be out on track every lap, going quicker and getting more feel in the car. I’m just really happy to have completed a successful FP1 session.”