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Verstappen leads final Mexican GP practice as Mercedes hits traffic

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Max Verstappen closed out practice for the Mexican Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets as traffic left Mercedes Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg frustrated.

Hamilton and Rosberg were surprised by Ferrari’s pace in FP2 on Friday afternoon as Sebastian Vettel set the pace, but aimed to strike back during the qualifying simulations on Saturday morning.

Verstappen was one of the first drivers to head out for his final run in FP3, laying down a benchmark of 1:19.137 for the rest of the field to try and match.

Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was two-tenths of a second off after having his lap compromised by Kevin Magnussen at the final corner, while the Mercedes drivers also toiled with traffic.

Hamilton finally found some space with three minutes remaining, allowing him to post a lap that was 0.094 seconds off Verstappen’s effort, but could not go any faster before the end of the session, leaving the Briton second overall.

Teammate and title rival Rosberg also struggled, running wide on one of his late laps and hurting his tires before going fourth, around half a second off Verstappen’s time at the top.

Valtteri Bottas shot up to fifth for Williams as the Ferrari drivers failed to emulate their Friday pace, with Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen finishing sixth and seventh.

Felipe Massa finished eighth in the second Williams, while Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished ninth and tenth respectively for Force India and Toro Rosso.

Qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Saturday.

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.