Force India’s Sergio Perez was right on their tail too, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen also within a second of Rosberg’s pace. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, the Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz completed the top ten.
On the slower, soft Pirelli tyres Hamilton was initially fastest on a track that caused most drivers to complain of oversteer problems. The world champion lapped in 1m 43.078s, but Raikkonen was close on 1m 43.214s.
On the supersoft tyres, Rosberg popped up to the top despite running an engine that has amassed high mileage. The German’s neat and tidy lap yielded 1m 41.856s. Hamilton’s response was to go faster in sector one before running over the kerb at Turn 5/6, where earlier had had half spun on the softs, and when that lap had to be aborted his subsequent efforts also saw a new fastest first sector time negated by traffic - in the form of Rosberg himself.
The Englishman eventually had to be satisfied with 1m 42.137s, which was only a fraction faster than Vettel’s 1m 42.185s. Like Hamilton, the Ferrari driver had earlier flat-spotted a set of softs sliding wide in a half spin at Turn 1.
Perez was again on excellent form, taking fourth with 1m 42.448s ahead of Raikkonen on 1m 42.627s, Ricciardo on 1m 42.726s and Hulkenberg on 1m 42.859s.
Massa and Bottas failed to put Williams much further forward, taking eighth and ninth with 1m 43.173s and 1m 43.239s respectively, as Sainz gave Toro Rosso a boost by rounding out the leading 10 on 1m 43.429s.
Also noteworthy was Jenson Button’s 11th for McLaren on 1m 43.508s, but that came at the expense of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat who did not record a time after his RB11 ran into electrical problems.