Rosberg leads opening Japanese GP practice as Alonso, Grosjean hit trouble

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Formula 1 drivers’ championship leader Nico Rosberg made an impressive start to the Japanese Grand Prix weekend at Suzuka by topping opening practice for Mercedes on Friday morning.

Rosberg arrived in Japan with a 23-point lead at the top of the standings after finishing third in Malaysia last weekend and seeing Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton retire from the race.

Rosberg enjoyed the early edge over Hamilton during first practice, hooking up a lap of 1:33.751 to finish two-tenths of a second clear at the top of the timesheets for Mercedes.

The German marque once again dominated proceedings with a one-two finish as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest in third place, over a second behind Rosberg at the top.

Kimi Raikkonen followed teammate Vettel home in fourth place in FP1 as Ferrari pulled clear of close rivals Red Bull, whose drivers finished fifth and sixth, Daniel Ricciardo leading Max Verstappen.

Force India made an impressive start to practice at Suzuka as Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez finished seventh and eighth respectively. Rivals in the race for P4 in the constructors’ championship Williams finished over half a second adrift with Valtteri Bottas 10th in the final standings.

The session was not without incident as both Fernando Alonso and Romain Grosjean hit the barriers. Alonso spun at the exit of Spoon early in the running, damaging his rear wing. The Spaniard was able to still finish the session ninth-fastest for McLaren.

Grosjean suffered yet another brake failure – a recurring issue at Haas – that left him careering into the barrier, bringing his session to an early end.

Second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 1am ET on Friday morning.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023

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Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.