Hamilton’s team mate Nico Rosberg was third, a further four-tenths back, just ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg was the leading non-supersoft runner in sixth for Force India.
Max Verstappen was seventh for Red Bull, with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas in eighth the last man to get within a second of Vettel’s time. Completing the top ten were Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Once again the cold conditions caused a lot of head scratching as grip was at a premium, and the general view is that it is still too soon to drawn any firm conclusions. Perhaps Ferrari have taken a step forward. Perhaps the conditions favoured them. Perhaps Mercedes had simply turned down their engines to minimise the strain on them at this early stage. Tomorrow should show the true picture, once the track has rubbered in more, and if conditions get warmer.
Raikkonen set the early pace on the soft Pirelli with 1m 22.075s, which Vettel improved to 1m 22.024 when running mediums.
Mercedes also split their programmes, with Hamilton then setting the fastest time of 1m 20.362s on the softs as Rosberg did 1m 21.416s on the mediums. Then Vettel donned supersofts, and did 1m 19.700s.
Raikkonen’s response on the same rubber was a disappointing 1m 20.259s, which would leave him fourth.
Hamilton got down to 1m 19.803s, then to 1m 19.794s, leaving him that 0.004s down. But he had complained of traffic in his first sector. Rosberg’s best of 1m 20.225s left him third ahead of Raikkonen, while behind the Finn the times were tight. Ricciardo put Red Bull fifth with 1m 20.448s ahead of Hulkenberg’s Force India on 1m 20.574s, a troubled Verstappen on 1m 20.691s in the second Red Bull, Bottas on 1m 20.629s for Williams and Sainz on 1m 20.974s for Toro Rosso.
Alonso rounded out the leading 10 for McLaren, but his running finished 15 minutes before the end of the session, for undisclosed reasons.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, 11th, was told to stop his Ferrari engine right at the end, Felipe Nasr spun his Sauber at Turn 6, and local hero Sergio Perez spun his Force India in the Esses and ended up only 15th. At Haas, Romain Grosjean lost almost an hour to an electrical issue and finished 20th.
Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all appear to have decent single-lap and long-run race pace, but we’ll see tomorrow just who has anything left in the tank to move clear of their rivals.