Sebastian Vettel bounced back to his best, but with a warning on Friday afternoon when he led the way for Red Bull at the Nurburgring in second free practice ahead of Sunday's German Grand Prix.
On a warm and dry afternoon in the Eifel, the defending triple world champion and current series leader clocked a best lap in one minute and 30.416 seconds to boost his fans' hopes that he can claim his first win on home soil in Sunday's 60-laps race.
This put him two-tenths of a second clear of nearest rival and fellow-German Nico Rosberg of Mercedes as the pair made the most of home support to emerge as likely leading contenders for pole position on Saturday.
Australian Mark Webber was third quickest in the second Red Bull, close behind Rosberg but ahead of Frenchman Romain Grosjean and his Lotus team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 champion.
Vettel said: "Mercedes were very quick this morning, probably quicker than we could have been. And I wasn't entirely happy with the car this morning. But I was quite happy with what we had this afternoon..."
After the dramatic tyre problems seen a week earlier at Silverstone, where four drivers suffered high-speed blowouts during the British Grand Prix, there were no problems with the new Kevlar-strapped tyres supplied by Pirelli.
The drivers' overnight threat that they may strike and withdraw from the event if the Silverstone spectacle was repeated was never in any need of realisation as Red Bull confirmed they will be competitive in race trim following Mercedes morning demonstration of sheer speed.
Having seen Mercedes take pole at five of the last six races, Webber was quick to play down hopes of a Red Bull recovery that knocked them off the front row.
"We are not putting our hopes up for tomorrow," said Webber. "Obviously Mercedes is more than capable of doing a front row lockout, which we have seen for the last few races. Seb and I look a bit more competitive on one lap today, but Mercedes could put the fuel in.
"We need to keep working hard and it is similar for the race -- Mercedes has proved in the last few weeks that it is not slow on Sundays, so there are a few guys that are in contention for the win."
Vettel added his agreement with that assessment.
"I think Mercedes was bloody quick this morning, we couldn't have done that," said Vettel. "This morning I was not entirely happy with the car, while in the afternoon I was in better shape.
"The low-fuel run was determined by traffic, so we will see - but I am quite happy so far."
Two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was sixth quickest in the afternoon, ahead of Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa, after failing to clock a lap in the morning.
Briton Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 champion, was eighth fastest in the afternoon, after dominating morning practice, ahead of former team-mate and compatriot 2009 champion Jenson Button of McLaren.
Hamilton, however, had already stated his case and just six days after his stunning pole lap at Silverstone, he could be sure he had the pace if required as Mercedes prepared for their brand's home race on German soil.
He was reluctant, however, to feel too confident despite being half a second faster than everyone in Britain.
"I don't know if I'm going to get that (sort of lap again) for a while," he said. "It was a nice lap but I've not been feeling 100 per cent in this car for some reason, but considering the results that I've had so far with that feeling I'm excited for the rest of the year."
Another Briton Paul Di Resta was 10th fastest ahead of his Force India team-mate German Adrian Sutil.
The track was dry throughout the session in rising temperatures after starting out with an ambient air temperature of 19 degrees Celsuis and a track temperature of 29 degrees.