Force India’s Sergio Perez claimed ‘best of the rest’ honours in third, a further four-tenths adrift, and with Valtteri Bottas next up for Williams, followed by the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, it was five Mercedes-engined cars in the top five.
The Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz took sixth, with the (TAG Heuer-badged) Renault-engined Red Bull of Max Verstappen in seventh. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, McLaren-Honda’s Jenson Button and the sister Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo completed the top ten.
The 90-minute session was run in windy conditions, with Hamilton initially fastest on the soft rubber with 1m 45.102s, as Rosberg tried mediums for a second quickest lap of 1m 45.880s.
On the supersofts the German went to the top of the timesheets with 1m 44.913s, but Hamilton’s response was spoiled when he slid over the kerb at Turn 16 after setting purple first and second sector times - he ended up four-tenths down on his previous best. A subsequent effort, however, saw him undercut Rosberg by 0.690s with 1m 44.223s, before they switched to race runs.
With 21 minutes left Rosberg pulled up in the very fast section at Turn 19, having been told to stop immediately after reporting a problem with his car’s drive. The Virtual Safety Car was activated as the F1 W07 Hybrid was wheeled to safety.
Force India had another great session, with Perez and Hulkenberg third and fifth, on 1m 45.336s and 1m 45.920s respectively, as they sandwiched Bottas’ fleet Williams on 1m 45.764s. Sainz starred yet again with sixth best time of 1m 46.027s, to head Red Bull stablemate Verstappen on 1m 46.068s.
Ferrari had another difficult session, with Vettel down in eighth, 1.9s off the pace on 1m 46.219s, and Raikkonen in 13th. They ended the session with the Finn locking up and going down the Turn 4 escape road, before abandoning, and Vettel told to slow down and pit, pronto. Both had problems with their cars’ energy recovery systems (ERS).
McLaren remained in the top 10, with Button ninth on 1m 46.234s ahead of Ricciardo on 1m 46.293s in his repaired Red Bull, while track ambassador Fernando Alonso was 11th on 1m 46.498s in the second McLaren.
Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber needed an engine change after problems with the exhaust this morning, but the team got him out halfway through and he headed team mate Felipe Nasr comfortably.
Again there were plenty of incidents. Turn 1 saw Felipe Massa, Button, Rosberg, Esteban Gutierrez and Sainz (backwards) in the escape road, while Turn 3 likewise saw Verstappen, Jolyon Palmer and Sainz in trouble. Wehrlein went off at Turn 4, as did Raikkonen right at the end, and Kvyat at Turn 5.
Curiously, Vettel went up the escape road on the approach to Turn 8 where, ironically, Sainz followed suit later on while chasing the Ferrari. Gutierrez brushed the wall there, too, with his Haas’s right-front wheel, and then went off at Turn 15, where Kevin Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Alonso and Daniil Kvyat had already investigated the escape road.