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Long-run pace the focus for Mercedes, Bottas in Bahrain F1 test

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Valtteri Bottas and the Mercedes Formula 1 team spent Wednesday’s test at the Bahrain International Circuit focusing on long-run pace as they bid to overturn Ferrari’s race-day advantage.

After sweeping to three straight title doubles from 2014 to 2016, Mercedes has faced its stiffest challenge yet so far this season as Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel claimed victories in Australia and Bahrain.

While Mercedes has dominated on Saturdays, taking all three poles on offer so far this year, its race pace has appeared weaker than Ferrari’s, allowing the Italian marque to jump ahead.

During the second day of the in-season test in Bahrain, Bottas posted the fastest time of 1:31.280 and completed a mammoth 143 laps – close to three race distances – with a focus on long-run pace.

“Today was very good, we got so much running done. We were focusing all-day on the long-run pace, which was a bit of a problem for us on Sunday compared to Ferrari,” Bottas said.

“We did some interesting tests to try and improve both the tire life and the race pace. We have definitely got plenty to analyze tonight. I think I learned a few tricks today as well.

“To stay here in Bahrain for a test after two back to back races is tough, but the guys have done a great job over these two days of testing.

“Now we head home for a few days before the next race in Russia.”

Mercedes will look to overturn Ferrari’s three-point lead in the constructors’ championship at the next race in Sochi, Russia on April 30.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.