The two had played nip and tuck throughout, with Rosberg generally holding a one- or two-tenth advantage, as Hamilton frequently went quicker in the first sector only to lose out in the second. Both also had off-track moments.
There was a brief virtual safety car deployment after 15 minutes when Sergio Perez failed to make Turn 13, ran into the run-off area and then tried to make an anti-clockwise arc to get back on track before his Force India ran out of steering lock as he neared the wall. But that was all sorted out quickly, without causing too much interruption.
Rosberg then did much the same thing, albeit making a better fist of the recovery process with a quick bit of reversing, and later Hamilton went off on a tighter line and was able to get back out in a clockwise direction.
In the end, Rosberg lapped in 1m 36.471s only to see Hamilton bang in his best of 1m 36.403s.
For a while the Ferraris looked very threatening as Vettel lapped his SF16-H in 1m 37.007s when Rosberg had done 1m 36.783s and Hamilton 1m 36.953s, but where the Silver Arrows went quicker, the red car did not.
Kimi Raikkonen was fourth, but struggled with a wayward car on his way to a disappointed 1m 37.727s. Behind him, the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were close with 1m 37.918s and 1m 37.985s apiece.
Right at the end Max Verstappen jumped his Toro Rosso to seventh with 1m 38.133s at the expense of Jenson Button, who nevertheless boosted McLaren’s hopes of making Q3 this afternoon with 1m 38.260s. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Perez completed the top 10. All of them set their times on the supersoft Pirelli tyres.
As six-tenths covered Verstappen in seventh down to McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in 12th, eight-tenths bracketed 13th placed Dany Kvyat and last man Felipe Nasr. Qualifying is going to be very tight.