Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel both lapped within a second of Rosberg, with Max Verstappen not far adrift in the second Red Bull. Behind Hamilton, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez completed the top ten.
Hamilton just edged Rosberg on the soft Pirelli tyres in their early runs, when just a thousandth of a second separated them. But then Hamilton half spun going into Turn 11 and slid sideways with locked wheels into relatively gentle contact with the outer tyre wall. He was completely unharmed, but the incident obliged Mercedes to withdraw his car for the rest of the session for inspection, so his 1m 21.960s was later surpassed when others switched to supersoft rubber. So much for Mercedes’ wish for a ‘flawless’ weekend. It remains to be seen whether his gearbox in particular has sustained any impact damage.
Rosberg was one of those who improved, lowering the ante to 1m 20.435s and moving ever closer to the outright pole lap of 1m 19.146s set by Michael Schumacher here in 2004. (Rubens Barrichello, however, had set the fastest time earlier in the first qualifying session that year, with 1m 18.436s.)
Vettel finally got his Ferrari wound up on supersoft rubber, after earlier complaining of “sync” problems in the SF16-H’s gearbox, but his 1m 21.348s best was later beaten by on-form Ricciardo when Red Bull finally switched to the softest tyre compound. The Australian lapped in 1m 21.030s, a promising 0.595s off Rosberg, as Verstappen also beat Hamilton’s time with 1m 21.770s. The Dutchman has yet to show signs of matching his team mate’s speed here, however.
Raikkonen was sixth on 1m 22.058s, as Alonso and Button also used the supersofts to put their McLarens seventh and eighth again, on 1m 22.328s and 1m 22.387s respectively. Hulkenberg and Perez rounded out the top 10 for Force India, on 1m 22.449s and 1m 22.653s respectively, but things were extremely tight in the midfield as nine-tenths of a second covered sixth to 16th places.
As Jolyon Palmer’s technical problems again hampered his running for Renault, countless fellow drivers ran wide as they pushed track limits; at Turn 4 Vettel, Rosberg, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Williams’ Felipe Massa, Haas’s Romain Grosjean, Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, Perez, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Verstappen, Manor’s Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein all ran wide, while Haryanto also spun at Turn 5 and Grosjean and Verstappen had moments at Turn 1.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas was reprimanded for failing to keep to the right of a marker cone on the pit lane entry, as was Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz for crossing the pit entry line. Sainz later spun with a rear-end problem at Turn 2, moments after Felipe Nasr’s Sauber had stopped with undisclosed technical gremlins.