Force India’s Sergio Perez was an impressive second fastest ahead of Ricciardo, but will receive a five-place grid penalty for his gearbox change following his FP3 crash.
Fourth place went to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (with an identical time to Ricciardo), ahead of team mate Kimi Raikkonen, Williams Felipe Massa and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen completed the top ten.
Rosberg owned Q1. His gearbox had been checked as a precaution after FP3, but all was well and he soon set the pace, beating Hamilton’s opening 1m 44.259s with 1m 44.136s, then improving that to 1m 43.685s as his team mate went down the Turn 15 escape road and then headed for the pits.
Making up for his FP3 crash, Perez was third from Ricciardo, with Kvyat a surprise fifth from Bottas and Sainz. Raikkonen and Vettel were only 11th and 13th.
The Manors missed Q2 by a fraction, as Felipe Nasr took 16th for Sauber with 1m 45.549s to Rio Haryanto’s 1m 45.665s and Pascal Wehrlein’s 1m 45.750s. The Banbury cars were joined on the eliminated list by Jenson Button’s troubled McLaren, which took the Briton down the Turn 15 escape road at one stage.
He managed 1m 45.804s before having to back off on a faster lap. Marcus Ericsson hit a wall and that left his Sauber 20th on 1m 46.231s, and Jolyon Palmer had his best qualifying run in comparison with Renault team mate Kevin Magnussen to lap in 1m 46.394s to the Dane’s 1m 46.348s. Unfortunately, that still left them on the back row.
Q2 looked super-close until Rosberg banged in a fantastic 1m 42.520s just as Hamilton was having to back off his own fast lap when Nico Hulkenberg spun his Force India at Turn 16. Team mate Perez had just gone fastest until Rosberg’s effort, as Ferrari also came into play with Vettel in third. In eighth place with five minutes to go, Hamilton was suddenly looking vulnerable, as were Ricciardo, Verstappen and Hulkenberg.
Verstappen rectified that with third place, the Dutchman pushing Hamilton to ninth, which became 10th when Romain Grosjean went ninth for Haas. The number-44 Mercedes then nosed off at Turn 7 when Hamilton locked up, and he was on the bubble, with two minutes left…
He made it - just. His lap was a second off Rosberg’s, at 1m 43.526s, but he was safe in P2. So was Ricciardo in P4 on 1m 44.141s, but that left Grosjean in the cold in 11th, missing Haas’s first Q3 by a fraction with 1m 44.755s. Hulkenberg’s spin proved costly - especially as Perez was third - leaving him 11th on 1m 44.824s. And there was a disagreement with his crew about when he should have pitted.
Sainz lost his chance to improve with a trip down the escape road at Turn 15, leaving him behind Kvyat for the first time, in 13th with 1m 45.000s. Fernando Alonso couldn’t stir his McLaren beyond 1m 45.270s, and a trip down the Turn 8 escape road left Esteban Gutierrez 15th on 1m 45.349s for Haas, as Nasr brought up the rear with 1m 46.048s.
Would Rosberg rule again in Q3?
It seemed not. Hamilton was four-tenths up on his team mate when he locked up and went straight on at Turn 15, and Rosberg had to back off his lap as a result, leaving Perez fastest on 1m 43.515s from Vettel on 1m 44.260s and Raikkonen on 1m 44.269s. Consternation ruled in the Silver Arrows camp as their drivers were seventh and eighth after the first runs. Red Bull were in trouble too, with Ricciardo sixth and Verstappen going off at Turn 1, then having a territorial dispute with Bottas.
It would all come down to the last attempts, and it was indeed Rosberg who came through, with 1m 42.758s. But Hamilton’s disastrous session ended when he walloped the inside wall with his right-front wheel while negotiating Turn 11, also spoiling Verstappen’s best lap as the red flag was deployed with two minutes and five seconds remaining.
That left the survivors to scramble for the chance of a final fast lap, and what a scrap it was as Bottas and Verstappen immediately restarted their turf war and spoiled each other’s efforts.
Crucially, an ultra committed Ricciardo jumped from seventh to third with 1m 43.966s, as Vettel improved with the same time but losing out by setting it a fraction later. Raikkonen did not improve on his 1m 44.269s so dropped to fifth ahead of Massa on 1m 44. 483s, Kvyat on 1m 44,717s and Bottas on 1m 45.246s, none of whom improved either. But Verstappen did, his 1m 45.570s lifting him ahead of Hamilton, who was stuck on 2m 01.954s.
What a race is in prospect, as Rosberg seeks redemption after two poor races, Hamilton faces another fightback, and Perez, Ricciardo, Vettel and Raikkonen smell blood in the water.
The provisional grid will line up: Rosberg, Ricciardo; Vettel, Raikkonen; Massa, Kvyat; Perez, Bottas; Verstappen, Hamilton; Grosjean, Hulkenberg; Sainz, Alonso; Gutierrez, Nasr; Haryanto, Wehrlein; Button, Ericsson; Magnussen, Palmer.