Hamilton leads Mercedes 1-2 in first practice at Monaco

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Lewis Hamilton has finished fastest in the first practice session for this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix, edging out teammate Nico Rosberg by just 0.032 seconds at the top of the timesheets.

The Briton’s time of 1:18.271 was good enough to give him P1 just ahead of his teammate, but Mercedes’ advantage was reduced as Red Bull ran the team close in third with Daniel Ricciardo, whilst Fernando Alonso finished in fourth place.

Hamilton’s practice session got off to a rather unconventional start, coming to the track ‘fashionably late’ by way of speedboat just as the green light went out. The majority of the drivers did arrive on time, though, and duly went about getting in their first few laps.

This session marked the first opportunity for the drivers to use the new cars around the streets of Monaco, and it soon showed as a number of them locked up under braking and had to be careful not to put it in the barriers.

Rosberg, having arrived on time, was the first driver to head out and post some lap times. He was followed by a suited-up Lewis Hamilton five minutes later, with Marcus Ericsson and Esteban Gutierrez also posting times early on. Hamilton soon got into his rhythm and matched Rosberg’s pace, but he too made a mistake and was lucky not to hit Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.

Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to dip below the 1:20s mark, and he temporarily displaced Mercedes from the top of the timesheets. However, less fortunate was Max Chilton, who spun his car at Mirabeau and was forced to leave it in the run-off area, bringing his session to an early end.

Mercedes soon resumed normal service as Hamilton and Rosberg moved up into first and second place, but Red Bull refused to lie down. Ricciardo continually posted times that were far closer to the Silver Arrows than we have seen so far this season, and only finished two-tenths down on Hamilton.

With 13 minutes to go, Adrian Sutil’s session came to an early end when he lost the rear of the car at Mirabeau, but his Sauber was recovered under double waved yellow flags. Teammate Esteban Gutierrez also hit trouble and had to park his car up at turn one.

Kevin Magnussen had a late scare when Sergio Perez ran slowly in front of him, but the Dane managed to avoid the Force India through La Rascasse. Fernando Alonso also had to think fast to avoid the wall at Mirabeau.

Come the end of the session, Mercedes finished first and second once again, but Red Bull’s strong showing suggests that this is by no means a foregone conclusion in Monaco.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.