Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was an impressive fourth - albeit half a second off the leaders - as he edged his new team mate Daniel Ricciardo, with the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in sixth.
Rosberg came through a scare late in the session when he was forced to pit after his car went into limp-home mode. The problem was quickly traced to a sensor issue and resolved, but he was unable to improve on his 1m 23.078s best set on Pirelli’s soft tyre.
Hamilton seemed poised to improve on that after setting the fastest times in the first two sectors in a W07 Hybrid that had a completely different set-up after the instability he complained of yesterday. But it went away for him in the final sector, leaving his 1m 23.204s best 0.126s shy of his team mate.
Vettel then bettered Hamilton’s first two sectors, only to have his third come up short too, resulting in a lap of 1m 23.225s.
Raikkonen should have been closer to them but only got one quick run on the softs which yielded a disappointing 1m 24.110s after he met traffic.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, Force India’s Sergio Perez, an ascendant Daniil Kvyat and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso completed the top 10, separated by just 0.199s, while behind just 0.396s covered the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, the other Williams of Felipe Massa, Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean’s Haas in positions 11 to 14.
The battles will thus spread all down the field, but it’s the fight for pole between Mercedes and Ferrari that holds the most promise for this afternoon - and for a cracking race tomorrow.