Australian GP guaranteed as F1 season opener until 2020

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The Australian Grand Prix will retain its slot as the first race of the Formula 1 season until 2020 under the terms of its recent contract extension, it has been confirmed.

Melbourne’s Albert Park has hosted the race since 1996, enjoying opening round status for all but two years, and will host the first race of the 2015 season on March 15.

In 2006 and 2010, the Bahrain Grand Prix was the first race of the year, and was thought to be in the running to take over the position from the Australian Grand Prix given that its timings are more suited to European and American audiences.

However, speaking to Fairfax Media, Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO Andrew Westacott confirmed that the race is guaranteed to be the season-opener until 2020 thanks to the contract extension that was signed last year.

“We have clauses in there about the first race of the season,” Westacott said. “The requirement that it be the first race is maintained. It works beautifully for Melbourne and Victoria that it’s at the start of the season, and that’s not going to change.”

In order to alleviate the timezone problems posed by the race, it had been suggested that the Australian Grand Prix could become a night race, following in the footsteps of the Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain Grands Prix.

However, Westacott confirmed that this will not be the case, with a clause in the contract stating that it must remain a daytime event.

“The contract stipulates in various legal words about Melbourne being the first race and it being a day race,” he explained. “It’s also in the agreement that there’s no artificial light, so it’s not going to go to a night race.”

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.