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Verstappen confident Toro Rosso can be third-fastest F1 team

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Max Verstappen believes that Toro Rosso’s impressive qualifying and early race pace in Australia proves it can be the third-fastest Formula 1 team behind Mercedes and Ferrari.

Verstappen and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. qualified fifth and seventh respectively in Melbourne, and both ran well inside the top 10 in the early stages of the race.

However, a dud strategy caused both drivers to drop back, eventually leaving them P9 and P10 come the checkered flag.

Harnessing the power of the 2015-spec Ferrari engine, new for Toro Rosso in 2015, Verstappen was pleased with the pace that the team showed and thinks it can be best of the rest behind Ferrari and Mercedes.

“The car is competitive and I must take advantage of these opening races to earn important points,” Verstappen told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Given where we started in Australia, we now realize we can be the best team after Mercedes and Ferrari.

“It’s great that a lot of people are surprised by Toro Rosso. The car has improved thanks in part to the Ferrari engine.”

Verstappen, 18, became the youngest driver in the history of F1 in 2015 when he made his grand prix debut before going on to finish as the season’s top rookie.

The Dutchman said that he has respect for the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, both of whom have proven themselves to be team leaders throughout their F1 careers.

“Drivers that are comfortable with their team and know how to motivate them always stick out to me,” Verstappen said.

“Vettel is a great example of that. He knows who to work with the mechanics and everyone is on his side. I think that spirit is the most important thing for a driver.

“I always like Fernando Alonso because he remains the same person despite winning a few world titles. I hope that is what happens to me as well.

“While other drivers have changed, Fernando is the opposite along with Vettel.”

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.