Championship leader Nico Rosberg was fourth in the times for Mercedes, followed by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, with Friday pacesetters Ferrari only sixth and seventh courtesy of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Williams’ Felipe Massa, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz completed the top ten.
The sun made a welcome and overdue appearance and on a track that had finally begun to rubber in there was generally more grip to be found than yesterday, but heavy traffic made it a messy session which left many questions unanswered heading into qualifying.
On the soft Pirellis it was Hamilton who initially set the pace from Verstappen, 1m 19.721s to 1m 19.959s, but after advice from the Red Bull crew as to where his team mate was quicker, Ricciardo got in on the act with 1m 19.950s. Behind them, Vettel did 1m 20.048s in his Ferrari, as points leader Rosberg languished in fifth on 1m 20.242s.
Come the supersoft qualifying simulation runs, it was all about traffic. Red Bull got things just right, which enabled Verstappen to exploit clear road do 1m 19.137s and follow that with 1m 19.170s. Ricciardo backed him up with 1m 19.444s and then 1m 19.370s. Meanwhile, Hamilton voiced his frustration when Mercedes’ put him out in heavy traffic. Most of his laps were thus wasted when the supersofts were at their best, so his 1m 19.231s which hoisted him to second right at the end wasn’t fully representative. There is still also the suspicion among some that the Silver Arrows were running with their engines turned down.
Rosberg finally broke 1m 20s with 1m 19.618s for fourth, with Bottas pushing hard in the Williams on a track that seems to suit it, for 1m 19.811s.
Both Ferrari drivers were frustrated. Vettel’s best lap looked like it was going to be better than 1m 19.937, but he too hit traffic, while Raikkonen went wide going into the stadium and only managed 1m 19.994s. They were this sixth and seventh, and their times weren’t fully representative either. That left them ahead of Massa, who did 1m 19.997s in the second Williams.
Hulkenberg continued to hold the upper hand over Force India’s local hero Sergio Perez; the German was ninth on 1m 20.255s, the Mexican 11th on 1m 20.472s. Sainz split them in his Toro Rosso, with 1m 20.325s, and his partner Daniil Kvyat took 12th on 1m 20.586s.
The other crowd favourite, Esteban Gutierrez, was 17th for Haas, he and 19th fastest team mate Romain Grosjean complaining that they couldn’t get their front tyres working.
The McLarens were 13th and 15th, as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button were split by Jolyon Palmer’s Renault.
Once the traffic in Q1 is out of the way, Q2 should finally start to reveal the true pecking order. But expect the times generally to be close.