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Verstappen’s qualifying ‘ruined’ by Bottas, starts ninth in Baku

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Max Verstappen blamed Valtteri Bottas for ruining his qualifying attempt for the European Grand Prix on Saturday in Baku.

Verstappen and Bottas almost collided during Q3 at the first corner before swapping track position back and forth.

The end result was that Verstappen could only qualify ninth thanks to a late run after a red flag stoppage, leaving him disappointed.

“I think today we could have been P3. When the red flag came out I was already five-tenths up on my lap from Q2 so a 1:43.9 was in sight, easily,” Verstappen said.

“It’s just unfortunate I got ruined by Bottas in Q2, and then after the red flag in Q3 with two minutes to go, he did exactly the same thing, so again, very unfortunate, but the pace is there.

“I don’t need to have a chat, I’ll just focus on tomorrow. We know from GP2 there will be a lot of action and overtaking, so it will be a very interesting race for sure.”

“Max endured a much more frustrating Q3, having twice encountered Valtteri Bottas at turn one who inexplicably decided to overtake him up the inside compromising both of their laps, on the first and second run,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said.

“Unfortunately that has left him ninth on the grid but at this circuit it looks like overtaking is possible and it’s sure to be an action-filled grand prix tomorrow.”

Bottas ultimately qualified eighth for Williams, complaining of traffic in Q3.

“I think we were unlucky today. Missing FP3 definitely made qualifying more difficult,” Bottas admitted, having been sidelined after a drain cover damaged his car.

“It’s hard to say how much it affected us, but I don’t think our pace was too bad. I didn’t put a perfect lap together in Q1 or Q2, so I think to get through how we did shows that we had good pace.

“Q3 was tough because I was heavily affected by traffic on both of my runs and I think there was definitely about half a second to be found in the car.

“For tomorrow, we have a good race pace so I’m sure we can have a good day.”

The European Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Sunday.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.