Spanish GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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MONTMELO – Lewis Hamilton’s bid to claim a fourth win of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Spain this weekend got off to a fine start on Friday as the Briton set the pace during practice at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

After seeing teammate Nico Rosberg finish fastest in FP1, Hamilton fought back in FP2 to open up a 0.4 second gap to Sebastian Vettel in second place. Rosberg could only finish third, three-quarters of a second adrift of Hamilton at the top.

However, it was not all plain sailing for Mercedes due to the varying weather conditions throughout the Friday sessions. High temperatures and strong winds made lap times unpredictable, making the pecking order all the more difficult to understand and analyze.

Nevertheless, here is the Paddock Notebook on Friday in Barcelona.

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Mercedes still the team to beat

With Ferrari arriving in Barcelona with 16 new parts and a good portion of the car being brand new, there were hopes of the Italian team overhauling Mercedes at the front of the field and springing another surprise just as it did in Malaysia. The status quo remained very much the same during practice, though, and although Sebastian Vettel was only four-tenths adrift in FP2, the race pace difference appears to be swinging things in Mercedes’ favor. That said, if tire management comes into play, Ferrari could yet try to out-think rather than out-pace the silver arrows.

There’s more to life than upgrades

Just ask Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen told us on Thursday that the team had very little in the way of updates for this weekend’s race, only to then finish sixth in both FP1 and FP2 ahead of many who had heavily upgraded their car. The Dutchman explained how the circuit was well-suited to Toro Rosso, but if he can carry this form into qualifying and the race, it would be a remarkable achievement and result for the 17-year-old.

Grosjean benched again

Romain Grosjean was benched for the third race in a row during FP1, making way for Lotus reserve driver Jolyon Palmer. Pastor Maldonado told us after practice that he would make way for Palmer if the team asked him, but Grosjean said that the Venezuelan driver had been asked, yet is unlikely to be sidelined at all in 2015. The Frenchman seemed bemused by the whole matter, and rightly so. Palmer did another solid if unspectacular job during practice, finishing 13th for Lotus, four-tenths up on Maldonado’s best lap.

Hungry like the Wolff

Susie Wolff enjoyed a third practice run-out for Williams on Friday, following on from her two runs in 2014. The Briton finished 14th overall, but said that she made a mistake on her quickest lap, costing her three-tenths of a second that would have taken her onto the fringes of the top ten. Wolff was realistic about her future and what may be in the works with Williams, which was rather refreshing. All too often we hear drivers coming through saying “I’m the next big thing” and “I deserve a seat” – but not Wolff. She remains down to earth and realistic, much to her benefit.

Re-nope

Daniel Ricciardo’s smiley demeanor had every reason to take something of a hit following practice in Spain as he lost yet another internal combustion engine from his power unit, leaving him with just one more to see him to the end of the season (which of course won’t happen). Of course, Dan being Dan, he’s probably shrugged it off, but Red Bull will know that the rest of the year will continue to be an uphill struggle. Going through all four engines in the first five races is disastrous, and Renault will continue to be asked questions. Interestingly though, Verstappen – whose Toro Rosso is Renault-powered – said that he was happy with what the French marque was doing. Perhaps there’s more to this story than meets the eye…

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Join us tomorrow for all of the action from Barcelona on NBC Sports Live Extra (FP3 at 5am ET) and qualifying LIVE on CNBC (8am ET). For more information on the broadcasting options for the Spanish GP, click here.

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.