In a session that started barely an hour after the announcement of Sebastian Vettel’s imminent departure from Red Bull, Hamilton had set the pace on Pirelli’s hard tyre with 1m 34.210s to Rosberg’s 1m 34.516s. But where Rosberg then carved down to 1m 33.228 on the mediums, Hamilton ran wide at Turn 1 at the start of his quick lap and as he went over the exit kerb his Mercedes was doomed to meet the outer wall and tear off its left front wheel.
Despite his accident, Hamilton’s time on the hard rubber held up for second fastest, but the question now is whether the Briton’s car can be repaired in time for qualifying.
Fernando Alonso wheeled his Ferrari to third, lapping in 1m 34.439s on the mediums, and the Spaniard was chased by the Williamses of Felipe Massa, back on form after yesterday’s problems, and Valtteri Bottas. They lapped in 1m 34.564s and 1m 35.061s respectively.
After a busy morning off track, it wasn’t a great morning on track for Red Bull, with Daniel Ricciardo needing a lot of road for his 1m 35.086s and apparent ERS problems restricting Vettel to 1m 36.460s and only 15th place.
Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button sandwiched the Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniil Kvyat; the Dane was seventh on 1m 35.251s, the Frenchman lapped in 1m 35.494s before further technical problems intervened, the Russian managed 1m 35.538s and the Briton’s attempt to improve on 1m 35.549s went awry.
Nico Hulkenberg was again Force India’s leader with 1m 35.732s, ahead of the troubled Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn lapped in 1m 35.995s before his session was ended early by problems that obliged Ferrari to change the power unit in his F14 T ahead of qualifying.
Sergio Perez went off at 130R early in the session on his way to a best lap of 1m 36.365s which was good enough for P13, just ahead of fellow Mexican Esteban Gutierrez. The Sauber driver was very lucky to get away with a spin at 130R as he just kept his C33 out of the wall; he later posted 1m 36.407s. Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado both survived unscathed from Hamilton-like incidents at Turn 1, and took 16th and 17th places with 1m 36.558s and 1m 36.617s apiece, as Adrian Sutil chased them in the second Sauber on 1m 36.626s.
Former Japanese F3 champion Marcus Ericsson was again the quickest driver in the battle between Caterham and Marussia, the Swede taking his CT05 around in 1m 37.367s as team mate Kamui Kobayashi was restricted to 1m 38.784s and last place by right-front brake temperature problems. Between them, Max Chilton ran well to upstage Marussia team mate Jules Bianchi, 1m 37.883s to 1m 38.102s.
The forecast says it will be dry for qualifying which, with heavy rain expected on Sunday, could be an even more important session than usual.