Indeed, the 2015 F1 runner-up appeared to be meeting his match as Hamilton – using a fresher engine than Rosberg – headed up the timesheets in the first two sessions, but an impressive opening effort of 1min 40.738secs in Q3 proved a rapid opening gambit.
However, while a scruffy lap from Hamilton indicated more to come on from the world champion on the more definitive second wave of laps, his effort of 1min 40.614secs was no competition for Rosberg’s scorching effort of 1min 40.237, with three tenths of that margin coming in the final sector alone.
Beyond Mercedes, Kimi Raikkonen flew the flag for Ferrari with a late push for third position, his final effort lifting him past Sergio Perez. Indeed, an in-form Perez had looked on course for Force India’s best qualifying result since Brazil 2009 when he went third initially – having managed identical results in Q1 and Q2 -, only for Raikkonen to usurp him.
The Finn’s effort brings some smiles to the Ferrari team after Sebastian Vettel was a shock casualty in Q1, Ferrari miscalculating the cut-off lap time as his name slipped down the timesheets in the first session
Further up the grid, Daniel Ricciardo keeps himself in the hunt for the podium with fifth for Red Bull, ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the best of the Williams’, Nico Hulkenberg in the second Force India and Felipe Massa.
Having been forced to miss FP3 due to technical issues, Daniil Kvyat recovered to a respectable ninth position to keep Ricciardo in range for their inter-team battle in the overall standings, while Carlos Sainz completed the top ten for Toro Rosso in his first Q3 appearance since Silverstone.
Out-qualified by his Toro Rosso team-mate for the first time since Japan, Max Verstappen will begin the final race of his impressive rookie season from 11th position, while Jenson Button got the better of both Lotus’ and Saubers in 12th place, ahead of Pastor Maldonado, Felipe Nasr and Romain Grosjean, the latter halted by a mechanical problem before setting a time.
Joining Vettel in missing the Q1 cut was Fernando Alonso, the McLaren driver scuppered by a puncture on his final lap after running over debris, Marcus Ericsson, who suffered technical issues, and the Manors of Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.