Lewis Hamilton says he still needs to get the balance correct on his Mercedes if he wants to challenge Nico Rosberg in the Bahrain Grand Prix after being kept at arm's length by his team-mate in free practice.

The defending champion endured a relatively trying day after failing to match Rosberg on either fast run in FP1 and FP2, ending the day two tenths adrift of his key title rival.

Even so, Hamilton played down the margin, blaming a failure to get the balance right on the car for not quite getting on terms with Rosberg.

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Going on to declare the Bahrain circuit as 'not particularly strong' for him - despite winning in 2014 and 2014 -, Hamilton was nonetheless happier with his long run pace and feels he can close the gap with tweaks.

"It was not the best of Fridays, but there was no real particular issues, it was just getting the balance right," he said. "We got through our programmes, so there's no problem.

"Bahrain is always a difficult place to get the right set-up and balance and it's not been a particularly strong circuit for me, so I have to work quite hard to try to get the maximum out of the car. It's a good track for Nico and one of his strongest circuits, so I'm just working at it one step at a time.

"The long-run pace wasn't so bad and I closed the pace a little bit. It was just over a tenth on my fastest lap once you take into account traffic from Sebastian, so I think it's going to be close for sure. Nico is generally really quick here so I need to keep working on the balance. Otherwise, the car has been driving well.

Despite the gap to Rosberg, Mercedes ended the day with a sizeable margin over the competition beyond, but Hamilton says he hasn't given much attention to his rivals.

"I haven't really looked at what the others are doing, perhaps even more so than in the past because we are just working on getting the car right. That's the biggest challenge. I believe we are still strong but we don't really know what others are doing at the moment and I've not heard how quick Ferrari are going to be."