Kimi Raikkonen took third for Ferrari, half a second off the pace, separated from team mate Sebastian Vettel in the times by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg put Force India sixth, ahead of Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, while Lewis Hamilton - who failed to get in a proper ultrasoft-tyre run for Mercedes - was only eighth. Completing the top ten were Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
Overnight Pirelli had lowered the rear tyre pressures from 17.5s psi to 16.5, with the mandated front pressure remaining at 20. And Renault had now equipped Daniel Ricciardo, Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen with the upgrade that Max Verstappen had used exclusively yesterday. It is believed that the three-token spend was centred around the ignition system in conjunction with a new Total fuel, which meant it was any easy retro-fit to their existing power units.
Pascal Wehrlein recorded the first time, a leisurely 2m 04.121s, before backing his Manor into the wall and bringing out the red flag after 10 minutes. A traffic-savvy local lizard chose that as the best time to cross the road, waiting patiently until an amused Verstappen had gone by.
Prior to the brief stoppage the Dutchman had gone fastest on 1m 47.038s on the soft Pirellis. But just after Sauber’s Felipe Nasr had gone into the escape road in Turn 13 after passing a tardy Esteban Gutierrez in his Haas, Raikkonen went fastest on ultrasofts with 1m 46.813s.
On his supersofts, Rosberg trumped that with 1m 45.544s, and after Vettel had briefly ultrasofted his way to second with 1m 46.073s, Hamilton on supersofts took the place away with 1m 25.806s, 0.262s off his team mate. Mercedes had admitted the previous evening that their speed and grip had confounded their cautious expectations after last year’s dramatic shortfall. That didn’t stop Hamilton spinning in Turn 7, however, as he eased by a slowing Rosberg. No damage was done.
Things hotted up as Mercedes and Red Bull switched to ultrasofts in the final 20 minutes, and it was bad news for Ferrari.
Rosberg lapped in 1m 44.352s to go fastest, but after setting a new best for the first sector Hamilton locked his left front and went up the Turn 7 escape road. Then Verstappen used the purple tyres to get within 0.059s of Rosberg, with 1m 44.441s. Raikkonen’s effort on the same tyre yielded 1m 44.860s, leaving Ferrari half a second off, as was Ricciardo’s 1m 44.903s. Vettel was still way behind, with 1m 45.104s which left him fifth, complaining of lack of rear-end grip. But Hamilton was in even worse trouble and never got a clean lap on the ultrasofts. He was left eighth with his supersoft time of 1m 45.806s and a load of work to do before qualifying.
Hulkenberg again looked strong for Force India with 1 45.316s, as Kvyat was Toro Rosso’s star this time in seventh on 1m 45.503s. Behind Hamilton, Sainz took his Toro Rosso round in 1m 45.879s, as Bottas rounded out the top 10 in his Williams with 1m 45.947s.
McLaren didn’t quite have the speed to stay in the top 10, while Wehrlein got going again at the end after his early error to beat team mate Esteban Ocon by three-tenths. Hamilton aside, the unhappiest man may have been Romain Grosjean; the Frenchman was 18th, describing his Haas as the worst race car he had driven in a long while.