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Alonso to start last in Russia after grid penalty

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Fernando Alonso may be celebrating his 250th grand prix this weekend, but the Spaniard will be forced to start from the very back of the field in Russia on Sunday after being hit with another grid penalty.

Issues with the Honda power unit being used by McLaren in 2015 have forced the team into taking a number of new components throughout the season, resulting in an astonishing number of grid penalties.

Alonso has been forced to change more parts on his power unit in Sochi this weekend, giving him a 35-place grid penalty for the race on Sunday.

After qualifying 16th and missing out on a place in Q2, the Spaniard will now drop to the very back of the grid for the start of tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

“In terms of power effect, this circuit was always going to be tricky for us,” Alonso said. “Whilst I’d always prefer to start up the front, I’m not really too disappointed with qualifying.

“With the penalties, I was always going to start last, so we tried to minimize the laps we needed to run today, and going out in Q1 means I haven’t put too many miles on the car.

“Let’s see what we can do tomorrow. This race will be important for us as we have some experimental parts we’re testing for next year’s car, and we want to get some information about them.

“I’ll go out to enjoy tomorrow’s race – and I’ll be aiming to recover some positions.”

In the sister McLaren car, Jenson Button enjoyed one of his best Saturdays of the season to finish 13th, leaving the Briton very satisfied.

“This was probably my best qualifying performance of the year,” Button said. “Today, we got into Q2 due to our actual speed, rather than because of the others having any issues.

“I’m encouraged, because it was always going to be a very tricky weekend for us. Nonetheless, the race will be tougher for us than qualifying was because our deployment isn’t as good as other people’s, so we’ll be affected along the long straights here.

“In turn, that will affect our fuel consumption – since we use more fuel because we don’t have as much deployment capability. Still, this is progress.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.

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.