The Silver Arrows dominated as expected, but it was incredibly close behind them as Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull vied for position. Felipe Massa ultimately won the battle to be best of the rest, the Williams man just edging Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel for third.
Q1 was dominated by the Mercedes, with Hamilton fastest on 1m 28.586s from Rosberg on 1m 28.906s, both on the medium tyres. Massa got closest with 1m 29.246s on the softs.
McLaren's session was a world of pain in contrast. With Marussia failing to run, as expected, Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen will start from the final row of the grid, with Button beating his team mate with 1m 31.422s to 1m 32.037s - although his best on the softs was 2.8s off Hamilton's medium-tyre pace. For the Anglo-Japanese alliance, things can only get better.
Sauber lost Marcus Ericsson in Q1, the Swede eliminated on 1m 31.376s, but almost made it into Q3 with Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian ultimately missed out by less than one tenth of a second, his 1m 28.800s good enough to edge Max Verstappen's 1m 28.868s. The Dutchman suffered a massive wobble exiting Turn 5, although he did make a great save when many rookies might not have succeeded in collecting the car.
Daniil Kvyat, hampered by an engine problem in FP3, was only 13th on 1m 29.070s in the second Red Bull, as the incredibly well-matched Force India drivers were 14th and 15th with Nico Hulkenberg on 1m 29.208s from Sergio Perez on 1m 29.209s. Thus the gap between 10th and 15th places was only half a second.
Q3 began with Hamilton laying down an imposing marker of 1m 26.419s and Rosberg leaving himself everything to do after running wide at Turn 15.
At that point Vettel was a provisional second, but he was ultimately bumped down to third as Rosberg recovered with 1m 26.921s on his final run. Hamilton though slammed home his advantage by improving on his own final effort, which produced a majestic 1m 26.327s.
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Vettel clung to third right until the last moment, when Massa really got the hammer down for Williams to beat him with 1m 27.718s. Behind them, Kimi Raikkonen used a fresher set of soft Pirellis to improve to 1m 29.790s for fifth, while Valtteri Bottas made an incredible save from a mistake at the final corner that limited him to 1m 28.087s and sixth.
After all his problems Daniel Ricciardo underlined his talent with seventh place for Red Bull on 1m 28.329s, giving him a share of the fourth row alongside impressive rookie stablemate Carlos Sainz Junior, who took his Toro Rosso round in 1m 28.510s.
Confirming that they are back on track following a miserable 2014, Lotus duo Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were ninth and 10th on 1m 28.560s and 1m 29.480s respectively.
Thus the grid for the first race of the season reads: Hamilton, Rosberg; Massa, Vettel; Raikkonen, Bottas; Ricciardo, Sainz; Grosjean, Maldonado; Nasr, Verstappen; Kvyat, Hulkenberg; Perez, Ericsson; Button, Magnussen.