It was an eventful session for the world champion. At one point he came to a halt on track with a gearbox issue, but was ultimately able to get going again. He then later spun off without damage at Turn 11.
Kimi Raikkonen backed Vettel up in fourth place for Ferrari, chased by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. The Lotus cars of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were seventh and ninth, split by Sergio Perez in the second Force India. Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen completed the top ten.
The 60 minutes began with Felipe Nasr setting the first benchmark on medium tyres with 1m 14.960s for Sauber. Raikkonen put Ferrari ahead with 1m 14.373s and then 1m 14.098s before being supplanted by Vettel on 1m 14.062s. Verstappen was third with 1m 14.433s.
Neither Mercedes appeared in the early running, and no sooner had he gone out than Hamilton was seen at rest out on the track. “Gears,” he reported, before managing a reset that enabled him to get back to the pits.
Rosberg emerged just after the 25 minute mark, and immediately reset the first and second sector times to go fastest with 1m 13.753s, though Raikkonen held on to the fastest sector three time until Hamilton went quickest with 1m 13.647s to claim the second and third sectors. Rosberg replied with 1m 13.324s. Vettel reported a power surge when he upshifted to eighth gear, but went third with 1m 13.975s. Then Hamilton went fastest in the first sector, before spinning in Turn 11. He reported that the rear “just gave up,” and that he couldn’t react to it.
With 20 minutes left Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat was the first to run soft tyres, lapping third fastest in 1m 13.958s and then trimming that to 1m 13.829s. The Russian was still using the older specification Renault powertrain, while team mate Daniel Ricciardo continued with the latest version even though thoughts about its effectiveness are divided in the Red Bull camp.
On the same rubber, Ricciardo leapt from 18th to second on 1m 13.572s, which proved the trigger for wholesale improvements in the final quarter of an hour.
When the dust had settled Hamilton’s lap of 1m 12.070s proved unbeatable as Rosberg fell short with 1m 12.193s and Vettel only managed 1m 12.760s. Raikkonen was fourth with 1m 13.096s as Bottas put Williams fifth with 1m 13.335s. But the Finn will have a three-place grid penalty for overtaking Nasr under the Fernando Alonso red flags in FP2.
Hulkenberg exploited his love of the track with sixth for Force India with 1m 13.345s, as a late jump put Grosjean’s Lotus seventh on 1m 13.437s. Their team mates were eighth and ninth, Perez on 1m 13.506ss and Maldonado on 1m 13.534s. As Verstappen completed the top 10 with 1m 13.548s for Toro Rosso, Ricciardo’s time left him 11th ahead of a struggling Felipe Massa in the Williams and Kvyat.