Vettel’s best lap of 1m 19.024s, set on Pirelli’s ultrasoft tyres, was three-tenths quicker than the second-placed Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, whose morning yield of 52 laps was supplemented by the 95 team mate Valtteri Bottas - eighth - managed in the afternoon.
No one else broke under 1m 20s, though Esteban Ocon had a highly productive day for Force India, racking up more laps than anyone bar Vettel and taking his Mercedes-powered VJM10 to third in the times with a 1m 20.161s.
Daniil Kvyat didn’t quite reach a century of laps after technical problems temporarily halted his progress in the morning, but recovered to an encouraging fourth for Toro Rosso, just ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who took his Haas to a 119-lap total in fifth.
After Wednesday’s stoppages, it was a smoother day at Red Bull as Daniel Ricciardo steered the RB13 to sixth overall after a very handy 128 laps.
By contrast, Stoffel Vandoorne managed just 48 after another frustrating day for McLaren, the Belgian twice bringing out the red flags as electrical issues afflicted his MCL32. The consolation was the team’s quickest laps time so far, as he finished seventh.
Sauber split their running between Marcus Ericsson in the morning and Pascal Wehrlein in the afternoon. The Swede and the German finished 11th and ninth respectively, between them adding 132 laps to the Ferrari-engined C36’s tally.
Renault’s drivers were also due to share cockpit time, but Jolyon Palmer ended up running all day. It was another disrupted session for the Briton, however, and he brought out the red flags late in the afternoon after stopping on track. He finished 10th in the times, with 53 laps to his name.
Williams rounded out the timesheets, but it seemed clear that speed wasn’t the object of the Grove team’s Thursday programme - between them, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll ran 165 laps as the FW40’s impressive reliability continued.
For a full recap of the day's events as they happened, click here.