Hulkenberg finally sees checkered flag in Oz with sixth-place result

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For the first time in his Formula One career, Nico Hulkenberg made it to the end of an Australian Grand Prix last weekend, claiming a sixth-place finish as part of a double points day for Sahara Force India.

The talented German, who migrated to Vijay Mallya’s squad over the winter from Sauber, originally placed seventh but moved up one position after Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo lost his runner-up result and was disqualified for a fuel flow irregularity.

Prior to Saturday night, Albert Park had not been a very kind place to Hulkenberg.

In the 2010 and 2012 Aussie GPs, he was victimized each time by a first-lap incident and last year with Sauber, he was unable to start at all due to a hydraulic problem on his car.

So, if Hulkenberg was heard going ‘Whew!’ after his race Saturday night, it would have been most understandable.

Hulkenberg rose as high as fourth in the early going, holding Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Jenson Button at bay for a time until he lost out to both of them in the pits.

Late in the going, he was unable to keep back a hard charging Valtteri Bottas and eventually settled for P7 – at least, until Ricciardo’s DQ.

“I made a strong start and enjoyed good track position for the first two stints when I was running up in fourth,” Hulkenberg said. “The only real issue I had was some front left graining on the soft tires, which never really cleared up and that compromised my first two stints.

“It was a shame to lose two positions at my second stop [to Button and Alonso] but it looks like some of the cars around us have a bit more pace at the moment.”

Still, he said “it’s nice to reward everyone with some points at the first race.”

New teammate Sergio Perez also made progress in his Force India debut before finishing P11. But the aforementioned issue with Ricciardo enabled Perez to move up one spot to 10th in the race results and, more importantly, earn one world championship point to start the year.

Perez suffered a first-lap puncture following contact with Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez and was forced to pit, but caught a break when a Safety Car appearance allowed him to catch up with the field.

After that, Perez moved up the scoring pylon but was unable to get past Adrian Sutil on track. He would eventually do so in the pits but by that point, catching Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat for P10 had become too tall an order.

“It’s positive to finish the race, because it gives the team lots of information and hopefully that will make us stronger for Malaysia,” Perez said before being elevated into the points, which helped Force India take home nine points altogether from Australia.

Not the biggest of hauls, but certainly a welcome one.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.