Sebastian Vettel believes that the 1.6secs gap stretching between himself and the pace-setting Mercedes drivers can be eaten into as the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend progresses.

The German was only sixth fastest in the quicker evening session at Bahrain International Circuit, but had his running cut short by a problem on the left rear corner of his Ferrari that saw him park up with the final quarter of an hour still on the clock. Vettel reported a loss of drive before pulling off, before discovering that the issue appeared to stem from 'finger trouble' in the pits.

"We don't know 100 per cent [what happened]," the four-time world champion admitted immediately after the session, "I felt, coming out of turn four, that I lost drive so I decided to stop. Obviously, we don't want to risk or damage the car, [but it] is a shame because I wanted to do a couple of more laps.

"You try not to take risk. It is incredibly important to do the mileage and get the information on Friday, but it is also important to make sure the car is in a good condition for the whole weekend and whole season."

While his problem meant that he was unable to complete his prescribed programme, it is unlikely that Vettel would have been able to close the gap to the pace-setting Nico Rosberg, who ducked well under last year's pole time to record a 1m 31.001s benchmark in the second 90-minute session.

"Mercedes is the benchmark, very fast this afternoon and this evening, so they are the ones to beat," the German conceded, "I think we can be closer - the car feels alright but I think there are bits and bobs we can improve.

"I don't know what Mercedes did today, but they will be the ones to beat so we will push hard. I think if you want to qualify as high as possible you have to use the super-soft, I don't think that is a secret. A lot of people did their homework today, but I haven't done everything I could because we stopped. Kimi did a lot of laps, so still a reasonable day. There's a lot of homework for us, but I think we can improve."

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