The field appeared very competitive – less than a second separated Verstappen in first place from Fernando Alonso’s Alpine in a disappointing 15th.
It was a mixed day for all the movers up and down the grid.
Sainz impressed in the Ferrari, with his team-mate Charles Leclerc not stringing together a strong lap and ending up 12th, 0.5secs off the Spaniard.
And Alpha Tauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda impressed in going seventh fastest, two places ahead of experienced team-mate Pierre Gasly.
But Daniel Ricciardo was four places down on his new McLaren team-mate Norris; Sergio Perez was 10th in the second Red Bull; Sebastian Vettel was 14th fastest, six places behind Aston Martin partner Lance Stroll.
And Alonso, returning to F1 after two years away, was four places and 0.169secs down on Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Verstappen’s pace continued the strong impression Red Bull had left after pre-season testing, in which Mercedes were struggling with an unstable car.
“It’s been a good day,” the Dutchman said. “With the heat, not easy to find a really good balance around the whole lap but it was a positive day.
“Now we have to show what we can do in qualifying.”
Mercedes appeared to have made progress since then, with the car looking much more stable out on track – although Bottas did complain that it was “undriveable” when on his race simulation run late in the second session.
On the race runs, there was nothing to choose between Hamilton and Verstappen, both averaging more or less the same time over their stints.
But Hamilton said Mercedes were still struggling with the rear instability that plagued them in testing.
“It wasn’t where we wanted,” he said. “This weekend it is looking better but not perfect. We are working as hard as we can. We still have a hill to climb but we are staying positive.