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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.

Bottas, Mercedes fastest, run furthest, on second day of Bahrain test

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Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes AMG Petronas were both busy and fast on the second day of Formula 1’s first 2017 in-season test at Bahrain.

The Bahrain Grand Prix polesitter ran nearly three full race distances on Wednesday, completing a staggering 143 laps (race distance is 57 laps) with a best time of 1:31.280 at the Bahrain International Circuit. Lewis Hamilton led Tuesday’s running with a 1:31.358 lap, so Bottas’ time ended as fastest at the test.

Bottas wasn’t the only driver to top 100 laps on the day. Gary Paffett, the longtime McLaren test driver who ran the Mercedes-powered Williams today, ran 126 laps himself.

Fortunately Paffett’s old team, McLaren, had a needed long day of running itself. Stoffel Vandoorne got in 81 laps in the Honda-powered MCL32 chassis, which was huge for him after a pair of power unit issues on the Grand Prix weekend itself, and actually ended fourth fastest with a best time of 1:32.108.

Bahrain race winner Sebastian Vettel (1:31.574, Ferrari) and Carlos Sainz Jr. (1:31.884, Toro Rosso) were second and third in-between Bottas and Vandoorne, having completed 64 and 68 laps respectively.

Besides Paffett, the only other test drivers that ran were Pierre Gasly at Red Bull and Sergey Sirotkin at Renault. Toro Rosso ran both Sainz and Daniil Kvyat today while Sahara Force India ran both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, with both teams having run young drivers on Tuesday (Sean Gelael at Toro Rosso, Alfonso Celis Jr. at Force India).

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Hamilton apologizes to Mercedes for F1 pit lane penalty in Bahrain

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Lewis Hamilton has apologized to his Mercedes Formula 1 team after his hopes of winning Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix were dashed by a five-second time penalty for going too slowly in the pit lane.

Following a safety car period sparked by a crash between Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jr., Mercedes opted to pit drivers Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton on the same lap, stacking them in the pit lane.

In order to avoid losing time behind Bottas, Hamilton slowed his pace down before entering the pit lane to create a gap, backing up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

While this was perfectly legal behind the safety car with no overtaking allowed on the live circuit, Hamilton was not allowed to do it after entering the pit lane, but continued to slow, resulting in a five-second time penalty.

The sanction prompted Mercedes to revise Hamilton’s tire strategy, bringing him in much later than planned for a second stop, and while the Briton was able to charge back to second after taking his penalty, he ultimately fell 6.6 seconds short of Vettel at the checkered flag.

“Obviously a very difficult race. It didn’t start out the best, but the pit lane was really my fault and so apologies to the team for losing the time there,” Hamilton said after the race.

“I tried my hardest to catch up but it was a long old way to go. It was 19 seconds. But I gave it everything I could. Ferrari did a great job today, so we’re going to push hard together, re-gather as a team and come back fighting.”

By finishing second to Vettel, Hamilton slips seven points behind his erstwhile rival in the drivers’ championship, and admitted he was disappointed to have cost Mercedes a chance at winning.

“Of course the disappointment is there. As I said, losing points for the team, particularly when you could have potentially won the race is painful,” Hamilton said.

“But it is what it is. All I can say is that I gave it everything I could.”

Hamilton will aim to regroup at the Russian Grand Prix, which takes place on March 30 in Sochi.

Vettel takes Bahrain GP victory as penalty ruins Hamilton’s hopes

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Sebastian Vettel stormed to his second win of the 2017 Formula 1 season with a controlled display in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix that saw him jump both Mercedes drivers and take Ferrari to the top step of the podium.

Starting third in Bahrain, Vettel passed Lewis Hamilton off the start before getting ahead of pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas in the pit stop cycle, aided by a safety car.

Hamilton’s race was hampered after receiving a five-second time penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo in the pit lane, forcing Mercedes to get creative with its strategy.

While Hamilton was able to carve into Vettel’s lead with fresh tires at the end after serving his penalty, the Ferrari driver held on to take his second win of the year and fifth for the Scuderia, reclaiming the drivers’ championship lead in the process.

Bottas made a clean getaway from pole to retain the lead at Turn 1, blocking off Hamilton on the inside with a move that allowed Vettel to sweep into second place. Vettel immediately latched onto the back of the Finn, while Hamilton remained a lurking threat as the race began to settle in.

Vettel was able to use DRS to move onto Bottas’ tail, the Finn unable to break away and instead looking to manage his pace and back the field up. Hamilton remained third with the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo also in company, with just three seconds covering the top five through the opening phase of the race.

Ferrari blinked first and brought Vettel in at the end of Lap 10, fitting the German with a second set of super-soft tires in a bid to get the undercut. Verstappen blinked one lap later, but pushed too hard, too soon on his cold Pirellis, causing him to spin off the track at Turn 4, bringing his race to an early end. Two more retirements soon followed after a clash at Turn 1 between Lance Stroll and Carlos Sainz Jr, sparking a safety car.

Mercedes looked to double-stack its drivers under the safety car, only for slow stops to cost both Bottas and Hamilton ground. Bottas emerged from the pits in second behind Vettel, while Hamilton – despite going slowly and backing under Ricciardo to create space – had a slow stop that cost him a place to the Red Bull driver, leaving the Briton fourth for the restart.

The safety car came in at the end of Lap 16, with Vettel leading the field to the green flag. Bottas pushed to try and regain the lead, attempting a move around the outside of Turn 4, but was pushed back and soon fell out of DRS range. Hamilton – on soft tires – was also on the move, re-claiming third place from Ricciardo, with the Australian dropping all the way to sixth as he struggled to keep his tires up to temperature.

Despite running third, Hamilton remained a threat to Vettel at the front running on soft tires that could take him to the end of the race. However, the stewards soon threw a spoke into the works for Mercedes by giving Hamilton a five-second time penalty for going too slowly at pit entry.

Desperate not to let the race slip out of reach, Hamilton upped his pace and quickly closed on Bottas, who had fallen over six seconds behind Vettel at the front of the pack. Hamilton moved into second place on Lap 27, Bottas putting up no resistance, freeing the Briton to try and make a revised strategy work in light of his penalty.

Further back, Fernando Alonso’s woes with McLaren continued as he languished outside of the points, being passed by both Daniil Kvyat and Jolyon Palmer on the same lap at one point. Alonso took to his radio in anger, telling McLaren: “I’ve never raced with less power in my life.”

As Hamilton slowly gained on Vettel at the front, Mercedes brought Bottas in for his final stop at the end of Lap 31, fitting the Finn with a set of soft tires that would take him to the end of the race. Ferrari did not react in kind, although as Vettel’s lead was wiped away bit by bit, it seemed to be just a matter of time before he would come in.

Ferrari eventually made the call for Vettel on Lap 33, timing the stop perfectly so he emerged from the pits ahead of Ricciardo and with only teammate Raikkonen ahead on-track in the gap to Hamilton. Vettel soon put his fresh tires – 20 laps fresher than Hamilton’s – to good use, carving into the Mercedes driver’s lead, knowing that with the penalty applied he did not have to make a pass to win the race.

With Hamilton’s lead shrinking by the lap, Mercedes opted to bite the bullet and pit the Briton at the end of Lap 41, allowing him to serve his five-second time penalty before the car was serviced. Hamilton came back out a distant third behind both Vettel and Bottas, but now knew wherever he finished on-track would be his final classified position, even if he was unsure why the team had opted for softs instead of the faster super-soft tire.

The new rubber did the job for Hamilton, though, as he immediately set a flurry of fastest laps and began to lap over one second per lap quicker than Vettel at the front. Bottas was told not to put up a fight to his oncoming teammate – not that he could – freeing Hamilton up to chase Vettel. With 10 laps to go, the gap stood at 12 seconds.

Despite a late scare when Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber stopped on-track and threatened to bring out a safety car, Vettel was able to hold on and finish over six seconds clear of Hamilton to record his second win of the year.

Vettel’s win saw him break clear of Hamilton in the drivers’ championship, the pair being tied after China, and open up a seven-point lead at the top of the standings.

Pole-sitter Bottas’ hopes of a maiden grand prix victory faded into the Bahrain night as he finished 20 seconds behind Vettel in third place, with compatriot Kimi Raikkonen following two seconds behind in P4 in the second Ferrari.

Ricciardo bounced back from his tire woes on the restart to finish fifth, comfortably clear of Felipe Massa in P6.

Sergio Perez continued his impressive start to the season by finishing seventh for Force India, while Esteban Ocon was P10 for the third race in a row, meaning the team has scored points with both cars in all three races so far this season.

Romain Grosjean was unable to repeat Haas’ charge to fifth from 2016, but scored his first points of the year by finishing P8 for the American team. Teammate Kevin Magnussen retired early on after starting last.

Nico Hulkenberg was unable to replicate Renault’s impressive one-lap pace, dropping to ninth place at the checkered flag. Jolyon Palmer also struggled over the long runs, eventually being classified in P13.

Pascal Wehrlein had no issues upon his return to racing for Sauber, coming close to a point after finishing P11. The German won a late battle with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, who finished 12th.

Alonso was classified in P14, but retired with three laps to go due to an engine issue, marking McLaren’s second straight double DNF in F1.

Hamilton expects Ferrari response in race trim for Bahrain GP

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Lewis Hamilton is anticipating a response from Ferrari in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix after Mercedes stormed to a front-row lock-out in qualifying for the first night race of the Formula 1 season.

Ferrari made up ground on Mercedes over the winter, allowing Sebastian Vettel to win the opening race of the year in Australia and tie for the lead of the championship with Lewis Hamilton after two rounds.

Despite putting up a fight for pole in the opening two qualifying sessions of the year, Ferrari failed to challenge Mercedes in Bahrain, allowing the Silver Arrows to sweep to a one-two finish.

Valtteri Bottas will start from pole position for the first time in F1 on Sunday, but Hamilton expects Ferrari to mount a fightback in the race.

“Obviously today we had a bit of a margin to the Ferraris, but generally in race trim they seem to be a little bit quicker. But I guess we’ll see tomorrow, maybe it will level out a bit more,” Hamilton said.

“It’s definitely going to be a close battle. Valtteri’s first long-runs are very good. I don’t really know how necessarily the long runs were, but I heard they were quite quick on the Ferraris. It’s definitely going to be close with all of us.

“Looking after the tires is difficult. Whether it’s a one or two-stop will be interesting to see, temperatures, all those different things. Hopefully we’ll have a great battle tomorrow.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 10:30am ET on Sunday.