Red Bull find form in Australia; Vettel calls it a “relief”

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After a disastrous winter testing programme, defending world champions Red Bull finally appear to have found their feet ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix.

Having suffered problem after problem in Jerez and Bahrain, most expected the team to stand little chance of challenging front-runners Mercedes this weekend. However, both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo completed plenty of trouble-free mileage during practice on Friday, and even had the pace to finish well within the top ten in both sessions.

“In a way it’s a relief today, the fact that we were running, we didn’t have any problems, the balance was good and the performance looked alright,” defending world champion Vettel explained. “In the end Friday times are not worth a lot, but it’s better to be close to the top rather than somewhere towards the back, so I’m very happy with that.

“We will do what we can to prepare for tomorrow and Sunday, but let’s see where we are then – the most important thing is that we finish.”

Vettel completed 51 laps on Friday, amount to around one-third of what he managed throughout the entire winter testing period. New teammate Daniel Ricciardo also enjoyed a successful day at Albert Park, completing 64 laps, and he even finished ahead of Vettel in the first free practice session.

“I knew the guys were doing everything they could since testing but still, we didn’t expect to do that many laps today, so I’m really happy and pleased for them,” the Australian driver said. “I think we have to be pretty positive with where we ended up today. We expected Mercedes to be quickest, but we were within a second of them today so that’s a lot better than we thought. Let’s see if it’s the same story after qualifying tomorrow, but for today we’re pleased.”

Although the odds are stacked against him, Vettel is chasing an unprecedented tenth straight victory on Sunday in Australia. However, should the forecast rain arrive and a few retirements work in his favor, the German driver may stand a chance of breaking Alberto Ascari’s 60-year-old record.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.