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Hulkenberg leads third day of Barcelona F1 test as Haas finishes P2

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BARCELONA – Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed a successful first session behind the wheel of the Force India VJM09 as he topped the timesheets on day three of Formula 1 pre-season testing.

Following on from Alfonso Celis Jr. and Sergio Perez, Hulkenberg enjoyed his first taste of the new Force India car on Wednesday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The German driver immediately put it to good use by finishing over two seconds clear at the head of the field, posting a best lap of 1:23.110 on the soft tire in the afternoon session after also topping the timesheets in the morning.

Romain Grosjean enjoyed a strong day in the Haas VF-16 to finish second, 2.7 seconds down on Hulkenberg’s time at the top. The Frenchman completed over 80 laps, marking the rookie team’s most productive day so far as its impressive start to life in F1 continued.

Kimi Raikkonen spent much of the morning sat in the garage as a fuel system check prevented Ferrari from running, but he too impressed on his first run in a 2016-spec car by finishing third, one-tenth shy of Grosjean’s time.

Kevin Magnussen did his best to put Renault’s difficult start to testing behind him to finish fourth, albeit suffering two stoppages himself as the issues on the new R.S.16 car continued to rear their heads. He did rack up over 100 laps though, giving the French manufacturer some much-needed mileage.

Mercedes opted to split its Wednesday running between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in a bid to keep both fresh given the extreme mileage the team had already achieved. Rosberg finished fifth in the final standings with 74 laps on the board, while Hamilton ended the afternoon in P8.

Carlos Sainz Jr. bounced back from an early stoppage to finish the day sixth ahead of Felipe Nasr, while Daniil Kvyat ended up ninth for Red Bull in front of Felipe Massa of Williams.

Jenson Button finished 11th as McLaren suffered its first major setback of testing, with a hydraulic failure restricting him to just 51 laps in total. Rio Haryanto propped up the timesheets as he made his debut for Manor, ending the day five seconds off the pace.

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.