But, shortly after the session finished, the German and championship leader Alonso, who set the seventh-fastest time, were summoned to appear before the stewards to investigate allegations Vettel had baulked the Spaniard at the chicane during the final moments of qualifying.
The incident between the title rivals – Vettel trails Alonso by 29 points – came during a dramatic finish to the session.
Kimi Raikkonen’s spin at Spoon Curve brought out the yellow flags and ruined the final attempts of the likes of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton on a disappointing day for McLaren. Button ultimately ended up third fastest, behind Vettel and his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, but his five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change means he will start eighth.
That will still see him start ahead of Hamilton, who could only manage ninth.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was tenth, but will take a five-place grid penalty for changing a gearbox, while his Scottish team-mate Paul Di Resta, who starts 11th, missed out on the top ten shoot-out by just 0.055secs.