The Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace was damp at the start of the 60-minute session, but rapidly dried as Sebastian Vettel went third from Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen, just two-tenths off Rosberg’s pace. Then came the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, all within around half a second of the Mercedes.
The Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were seventh and ninth respectively, split by an impressive Jolyon Palmer in the Renault. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso completed the top ten.
After the rain forecast for tomorrow arrived early, the track was still slightly wet when Hamilton boldly ventured out on soft Pirelli tyres early in the hour to set the initial benchmark at 1m 20.910s and then 1m 16.980s.
Thereafter, things developed quickly. Running with revised minimum rear tyre pressures of 20.5 psi instead of yesterday’s 21.5, Bottas then took over for Williams with 1m 15.048s on softs before team mate Massa did 1m 13.848s as conditions continued to improve. Then Raikkonen went ahead for Ferrari with 1m 12.860s as Red Bull ran both their drivers on mediums and Hamilton and Rosberg focused on longer runs.
Ricciardo and Verstappen traded second place for a while before Vettel took it with 1m 13.198s on softs as Raikkonen improved to 1m 12.530s. Then Vettel cut down to 1m 12.661s as Verstappen’s 1m 13.219s on mediums left him third.
When Red Bull switched to softs with 17 minutes remaining, Ricciardo went fastest with 1m 12.287s as Palmer jumped up to a surprise fourth for Renault on softs with 1m 12.968s.
Then Verstappen did 1m 12.077s to go to the top of the timesheets, before being deposed immediately by Rosberg’s 1m 11.787s. The German’s second push lap saw him improve that to 1m 11.740s. Hamilton did only one lap which yielded 1m 11.833s as Vettel joined them beneath 1m 12s with 1m 11.959s. The former champion’s attempt to improve that was scrappy, however, and ended with 1m 12.255s.
Behind the leading trio, Raikkonen’s 1m 12.027s held up for fourth ahead of Verstappen, with Ricciardo sixth ahead of the Williams duo, who were split by Palmer; Bottas lapped in 1m 12.614s, Palmer that 1m 12.968s, and Massa 1m 12.990s. Alonso rounded out the top 10 with 1m 13.002s for McLaren.
There was bad news for Sauber, with Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson rooted to the bottom of the timesheet, with the latter completing just one lap before the team decided the Swede will need an engine change ahead of qualifying.
Things may change at the front this afternoon when Mercedes turn up the wick for qualifying, but the battle between Ferrari and Red Bull is going to be intense, while it’s worth noting that just 0.990s separated Alonso in 10th from Nasr in 20th. That’s 11 cars within that bracket…