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Mercedes faces genuine challenge at Singapore GP

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SINGAPORE (AP) For every grand prix this season, the only question before the race has been which of the two Mercedes drivers would win.

At this weekend’s Singapore GP, there is a refreshing prospect of a genuine challenge in the night race to the Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg duopoly.

Having won all but one race this season – the Spanish GP where the two rivals collided on the first lap – Mercedes will start favorites again this weekend, but not by much.

The tight, twisty and bumpy nature of the Marina Bay street circuit largely cancels out Mercedes’ speed advantage over chief rivals Red Bull and Ferrari, and recent history indicates those F1 rivals should thrive this weekend.

On the similar Monaco circuit earlier this year, Red Bull had Mercedes’ measure and probably would have won if not for its pit-stop farce. Daniel Ricciardo came in for fresh tires before the pit crew was in position, so he had to drive back out and come in again next time around.

And last year’s Singapore race proved a difficult one for Mercedes in qualifying on the third row of the grid and unable to mount any challenge. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took a comfortable victory.

Ricciardo was bullish about Red Bull’s prospects this weekend, given the strong parallels with Monaco.

“We look at it as a good chance to get the victory I’ve been after this season,” Ricciardo said Thursday. “I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself or them (the team) for this weekend but deep down, we want to win. We are a group of winners, so if there is pressure on us to get it done this weekend, we will thrive on that.”

His young teammate Max Verstappen, who took the only non-Mercedes victory this year in Spain, was cautiously optimistic, saying Friday’s practice sessions will shed more light on whether Mercedes is vulnerable.

“We know we have a very good chance to score some good points here,” Verstappen said. “It’s difficult for me to say now that we will be the No. 1 team this weekend, because we haven’t had a chance to race here yet.”

For Ferrari, this race represents the best victory chance of the season. Fail to win here, and the Italian team will be staring at the very real prospect of another winless season to match 2014.

“I’m full of optimism, it should be a good place for us,” said Vettel, who has been the most successful driver in Singapore, winning half of the previous eight editions. “This track was very good for us last year and we have improved the car since then, so it could be a reasonable track for us again.

“Mercedes had an off year last year but you can’t guarantee that will happen again.”

Mercedes has closely investigated what went wrong here, and it would be a surprise if it was as far off the pace in 2016 as it was in 2015.

“Last year we were blown away by the fact that we somehow got it wrong,” Hamilton said to the local press. “But a lot of work went into understanding that.

“I definitely think we’re not going to have as many problems as we had last year. But if we do, we’ve got the tools to correct it.”

Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg in the drivers’ championship has been cut to two points after back-to-back victories by the German at the Belgian and Italian races. Rosberg has never won in Singapore, and his best race performance dates back to 2008 when he finished second for Williams.

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.