Vettel finished second nonetheless, with FP1 pacesetter Nico Rosberg third in the sister Mercedes, 0.8s behind his team mate. Fourth place went to the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
After struggling in Rosberg’s wake all morning, Hamilton brought some ‘Hammertime’ to the Sochi Autodrom as the world champion got things together on the soft-compound Pirelli tyres to set the initial pace with 1m 38.311s ahead of Rosberg on 1m 38.450s and Vettel on 1m 38.921s.
The Englishman’s runs were not without incident, though, as he ran wide at Turn 7 and then spun at Turn 4.
At the half-hour mark Ferrari switched to the supersofts and saw Vettel temporarily go fastest with 1m 38.235s. However, while trying to improve on that the SF16-H rolled to a halt by the pit wall when the German’s electronics cut out. The virtual safety car was deployed as the red car was wheeled away.
Thereafter, Hamilton blasted his rivals with a blistering lap of 1m 37.583s on the red-banded tyres to undercut Vettel by 0.652s. He subsequently failed to improve, as did Rosberg, before they moved on to race runs.
Raikkonen was a disappointing half a second off Vettel’s pace, as the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat sandwiched Valtteri Bottas’ Williams. Jenson Button in the lead McLaren, Felipe Massa in the second FW38, and Fernando Alonso in the sister McLaren completed the top 10.
Again, the green track caught out many; besides Hamilton, both Manors spun, Romain Grosjean half spun his Haas, and Rosberg, Ricciardo, Kvyat, Jolyon Palmer, Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz all had harmless off-track excursions.