The 60-minute session began with a scrap for supremacy on Pirelli’s medium tyres between the Lotuses and the Toro Rossos, once Sauber’s Felipe Nasr had set the initial pace, but by the time the prime tyre runs were done Mercedes had an eight-tenths advantage over Valtteri Bottas’s Williams, courtesy of Hamilton.
The Briton also set the pace on the softs, though like many others he ran wide over the grass at Turn 9 before he got things properly dialled in.
Things got exciting towards the end when Bottas got within 0.91s of the F1 W06, but then Hamilton redressed the balance with a lap of 1m 27.867s which was a whopping 0.954s quicker. Subsequently, Sebastian Vettel trimmed that gap to 0.696s with a best of 1m 28.563s. The Ferrari driver’s next effort fell short by a couple of tenths, but Hamilton was up in the first two sectors before opting to come into the pits, which suggests that the Mercedes still has some speed to spare.
Nico Rosberg looked less confident in this session and stopped after lapping his car in 1m 28.821s for third. Bottas ended up right behind him on 1m 28.912s which was itself just ahead of team mate Felipe Massa’s best of 1m 28.988s. With Kimi Raikkonen on 1m 29.017s, the top six were covered by 1.150s.
Lotus had a good session despite Pastor Maldonado doing a little bit of cross-country work, with Romain Grosjean seventh on 1m 29.481s from the Venezuelan on 1m 29.864s. After a grass-cutting effort of his own at Turn 1 Carlos Sainz again lapped quicker than Toro Rosso team mate Max Verstappen with 1m 29.869s in the tricky handling STR10. The Dutchman lapped his car in 1m 29.952s, leaving him 11th behind fellow rookie Nasr who took the Sauber to a decent 1m 29.934s.
The Brazilian’s partner Marcus Ericsson provided some of the drama with a big slide and half spin exiting Turn 12, but later recorded 1m 30.613s for 12th as Nico Hulkenberg headed Force India partner Sergio Perez with 1m 30.741s to 1m 30.993s.
It was a horrible session for both Red Bull and McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo’s RB11 stopped as he was leaving the pits, but was revived after marshals pushed it back to the pits. The local hero couldn’t better 1m 31.185s, however, and Daniil Kvyat was in all sorts of handling trouble and only managed 1m 32.820s which left him 18th.
Kevin Magnussen made amends for yesterday’s snafu with 1m 31.391s to pip Jenson Button on 1m 31.666s, leaving them way back in the troubled Honda-engined cars.
Once again the Marussias stayed in the garage while their ongoing electronic software issues were resolved, and the team acknowledged that it’s highly unlikely they will be racing this weekend and instead focused on trying to get their interim cars running properly for Malaysia in a fortnight.
A great session sets the stage for the first qualifying of the season. Mercedes have an advantage, but best-of-the-rest honours are still up for grabs.