Hamilton eases to Mexican GP pole, Rosberg leaves it late for second

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Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix from pole position after dominating qualifying at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, while Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg left it late to secure a place on the front row.

Hamilton entered the Mexican Grand Prix weekend trailing Rosberg by 26 points at the top of the drivers’ championship, knowing anything less than victory would realistically end his title hopes.

After making it through Q2 on the soft tire, Hamilton bolted on a set of super-softs for Q3 and immediately laid down an emphatic benchmark, while Rosberg ailed to just fourth with his first effort behind the Red Bull drivers. The battle for pole looked all but over.

A number drivers failed to find any extra time on their final runs, with Hamilton going 0.006 seconds slower than his own best effort.

However, Rosberg was able to pull out a blistering final sector that lifted him up to second place on the grid, continuing a run of top two qualifying results that stretches back to the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg was an excellent fifth for Force India.

Ferrari failed to convert its impressive Friday pace into a good qualifying result as Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel qualified sixth and seventh respectively. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa followed in P8 and P9 for Williams, while Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso.

McLaren’s qualifying went as most expected it to, with the high-speed nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez exploiting the weaknesses of the team’s Honda power unit. Fernando Alonso narrowly missed out on a place in Q3, finishing 11th, while teammate Jenson Button was P13.

Sergio Perez’s hopes of delighting the local fans in his native Mexico were dashed as he could only qualify 12th. However, with a free choice of compound for the start and a reputation for tire management, the Mexican could yet impress on home soil.

Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge, finishing up in 14th, while Marcus Ericsson also made it through to Q2 for Sauber in P15. The biggest surprise of qualifying came courtesy of Pascal Wehrlein, who took Manor into Q2 for the fourth time in 2016 before finishing the session in 16th place.

Haas’ qualifying struggles from Austin carried over into Mexico as both Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean were knocked out in Q1. Gutierrez spun on his final lap, forcing Grosjean to go off-track to avoid a collision. Wehrlein’s late improvement pushed Gutierrez down to 17th, while Grosjean set the slowest time and finished P21.

Daniil Kvyat failed to get out late in Q1 to try and improve his lap time, leaving him 18th ahead of Felipe Nasr and Esteban Ocon, both of whom failed to match the pace of their Q2-bound teammates. Renault’s Jolyon Palmer took no part in qualifying after cracking the underbelly of his Renault chassis while running over the curb during FP3, leaving him 22nd on the grid for Sunday.

The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

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.