Hamilton quickest in damp opening Australian GP practice

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Defending Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton started as he will hope to go on in 2016 by setting the pace in the first free practice session of the season in Australia on Friday.

FP1 for the Australian Grand Prix proved to be a damp affair, with rain coming and going throughout the session to limit the drivers to short windows of meaningful on-track running.

Overnight rain left the track wet to begin with until a short break in the weather allowed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to rise to P1 with a dry-tire lap.

Rain soon returned before easing again with just under 20 minutes to go in the session, sparking a flurry of lap times from the drivers, many of whom had bided their time in the pits for much of FP1.

Hamilton took full advantage of the dry window to topple Ricciardo, only for a final dry front to come through in the dying moments of the session and give drivers a late chance to improve.

The Briton found a further six-tenths of a second to end the session P1 with a best lap of 1:29.725, leaving him 0.4 seconds clear of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat in second place.

Ricciardo ended the session in third place, although his running did come to an early end when he beached his Red Bull in the gravel at the end of the session when more rain hit the track.

A number of drivers struggled with the changeable conditions throughout the session, including Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Manor’s Rio Haryanto who spun. Max Verstappen also lost control of his Toro Rosso at one point, but was able to recover to fifth place behind Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.

Nico Rosberg finished sixth in the second Mercedes ahead of the McLaren duo of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, while Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10.

FP1 saw Haas F1 Team make its grand prix weekend debut as both Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean got out to complete some laps in the VF-16 car, finishing 18th and 20th respectively.

Sebastian Vettel and Carlos Sainz Jr. were the only drivers not to post a time, with the latter coming to a stop in the pit lane 30 minutes in to FP1.

Second practice for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 1:30am ET on Friday.

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.