Rosberg, who had set the pace with 1m 26.777s on Pirelli’s hard tyre, deposed Vettel when the field switched to the medium rubber late in the session, lapping in 1m 26.021s to the quadruple champion’s 1m 26.177s. However Vettel was able to find 1.7s on the softer compound, something that neither Mercedes driver could match. Rosberg’s time difference between the two tyres was only 0.7s, and Hamilton, third overall on 1m 26.222s, also only went 0.7s quicker. The reigning champion could also count himself lucky to have survived a hairy spin at Turn 3, which badly flat-spotted a set of tyres.
Whether Vettel’s hard-tyre lap was less than optimal, or the two Silver Arrows drivers’ medium laps were, remains to be seen - but it sets things up tantalisingly for qualifying.
Valtteri Bottas held out some hope for Williams with the fourth fastest time of 1m 26.682s as Kimi Raikkonen completed the sub-1m 27s runners with 1m 26.994s. The latter was however compromised by incorrect settings on his Ferrari.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who only managed 13 laps on Friday, had a better session with plenty of running. The Australian even jumped briefly to the top of the timesheet when he was the first to record a time – 1m 27.048s – on the mediums. That left him sixth overall ahead of Felipe Massa’s Williams on 1m 27.109s, Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso on 1m 27.132s, team mate Daniil Kvyat on 1m 27.313s, Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso on 1m 27.809s and Jenson Button’s McLaren on 1m 27.938s.
Like Ricciardo yesterday, Kvyat spent a lot of time in the garage as his mechanics worked on his Red Bull.
Nico Hulkenberg felt that his Force India had improved as he took 12th on 1m 28.082s, to head Felipe Nasr’s Sauber on 1m 28.096s, Fernando Alonso’s McLaren on 1m 28.304s, the Lotuses of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado on 1m 28.578s and 1m 28.618s respectively, Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber on 1m 28.788s and Sergio Perez's Force India on 1m 28.996s.
Will Stevens was again Marussia’s leading runner with 1m 31.125s, as Roberto Merhi once again rounded out the timesheet with 1m 31.749s.