Sebastian Vettel was a distant fifth for Ferrari, over a second off the world champion’s best time, followed by Force India’s Sergio Perez and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. Carlos Sainz was eighth for Toro Rosso, with Williams’ Felipe Massa and Sauber’s Marcus Ericcson completing the top ten.
Force India tester Alfonso Celis was an impressive 11th in Nico Hulkenberg’s car, while Manor counterpart Jordan King was 21st in Esteban Ocon's machine.
With the track still green and dusty, it was Rosberg who set the initial pace with 1m 43.873s to Hamilton’s 1m 44.133s on Pirelli’s ultrasoft tyres. After Rosberg cut down to 1m 43.243s Hamilton went faster with 1m 43.051s. On softs, the world champion reduced his time further to 1m 42.869s, while Rosberg did similar times to his previous laps.
Verstappen got closest to them on the softs, taking his Red Bull round in 1m 43.297s as team mate Ricciardo backed him with 1m 43.362s on similar rubber.
Vettel also used softs for his best lap of 1m 44.005s for Ferrari, as team mate Raikkonen was separated from him by Perez’s Force India. The Mexican lapped in 1m 44.155s to the Finn’s 1m 44.556s.
Sainz used a set of supersofts for a late improvement to the eighth fastest time of 1m 44.685s, as Massa took ninth for Williams on 1m 45.039s and Ericsson used supersofts to push his Sauber up to 10th with 1m 45.168s.
It was a troubled session for Haas, with Romain Grosjean spinning at Turn 1 after repeatedly complaining of braking and instability problems on his VF-16, while team mate Esteban Gutierrez also had an off.
McLaren struggled with balance on Fernando Alonso’s car, and Jenson Button (who has reverted to his yellow 2009 title-winning helmet design for his last F1 outing) had to creep back to the pits with mechanical gremlins.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was also in trouble, parking out on the track after attempting to limp home with a punctured left-rear tyre early on and ending the 90 minutes with just four laps on the board.