In keeping with his recent renaissance, Michael Schumacher set the fastest time in first practice session for the Korean Grand Prix, though his position was enhanced by changing track conditions following a very wet start to the day.
The Mercedes driver survived a trip across the pit lane entry gravel trap as well as late attacks from newly crowned World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Paul di Resta to stay top of the times as the surface water dissipated slightly in the final moments of the 90 minutes.
The rain threatened to completely wash out first practice until the session came alive in the last 30 minutes.
After nearly an hour of waiting around in the rain – with the exception of some development laps for Lewis Hamilton's McLaren – it wasn't until the Briton re-emerged from the pits and triggered a mini burst of activity as five or six cars joined him within minutes, that things came alive. Hamilton was the first to post a time with a 2m03.391s lap, which was quickly usurped by Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi (2m03.182s).
That time stood for a while as Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber and the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Schumacher all failed to bump the Swiss from the top spot. Meanwhile Pastor Maldonado's Williams ran off the track twice in the space of 10 minutes.
It seemed as if Buemi had enjoyed the best of the conditions as with 10 minutes of the session left, both Force India drivers Adrian Sutil and di Resta had a crack at the top spot. Sutil's lap looked strong until the final sector, while the Scot had to catch a wild moment as the rain continued to fall.
Around the same time, Vettel ran wide around Turn 11 almost knocking another front wing against an unsuspecting wall. As if to emphasize the grip level, Karun Chandhok also spun his Lotus harmlessly.
Vettel then posted the fastest lap, only to be outdone by Schumacher, whose 2m02.784s was enough to take the top spot. Di Resta persisted to take the third fastest time, ahead of his teammate, as the checkered flag waved.
Buemi ended up fifth ahead of Kobayashi, Hamilton, Rosberg, Sergio Perez and Mark Webber, as only 18 cars set times. One of those was French rookie Jean-Eric Vergne, who made his practice debut for Toro Rosso and ended the morning 13th.
Pos Driver Team Time Laps
1. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 2m02.784s 10
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 2m02.840s + 0.056 8
3. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 2m02.912s + 0.128 12
4. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 2m03.141s + 0.357 12
5. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m03.182s + 0.398 9
6. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 2m03.292s + 0.508 13
7. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 2m03.391s + 0.607 6
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 2m04.311s + 1.527 12
9. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 2m04.797s + 2.013 8
10. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 2m05.183s + 2.399 5
11. Karun Chandhok Lotus-Renault 2m06.350s + 3.566 11
12. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 2m06.852s + 4.068 11
13. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2m07.541s + 4.757 9
14. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 2m08.218s + 5.434 5
15. Narian Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 2m08.832s + 6.048 14
16. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 2m09.232s + 6.448 14
17. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 2m12.658s + 9.874 7
18. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 2m14.508s + 11.724 4
19. Felipe Massa Ferrari no time 1
20. Fernando Alonso Ferrari no time 5
21. Bruno Senna Renault no time 1
22. Vitaly Petrov Renault no time 1
23. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault no time 1
24. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes no time 1