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Potential of another Raikkonen vs. Verstappen bout exists in Brazil

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In the crosshairs in the final laps at the Mexican Grand Prix and under the microscope really all season since his early season call-up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen could play a key role in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix from fourth place on the grid.

And Verstappen’s season-long sparring partner, Kimi Raikkonen, will look to prevent him from doing that as he excelled on his final lap on the grid – one he didn’t even think was that good – to edge ahead in third.

This marks the first time since Monza’s Italian Grand Prix in September that a Red Bull, whether Verstappen or teammate Daniel Ricciardo, has not made it into third on the grid. That also marks the last race a Red Bull did not make it on the podium, as Sebastian Vettel came third there.

Raikkonen has matched his season-best grid position of third (China, Russia, Belgium) and was surprised to end as high as he did after a lap he didn’t think was good enough for the position.

“I struggled the whole qualifying but to be honest the last lap, it was pretty average. I guess it was enough to be third place,” Raikkonen said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“The Mercedes are a bit too far. I struggled warming up the tires up. The middle I wasn’t happy. But I don’t mind. We’ll see what we can do.”

Ever the wordsmith…

Verstappen, meanwhile, will roll off fourth, in a weekend where his own pursuit of his best result could potentially interfere with the championship contenders.

“I wasn’t surprised. I struggled in my last run,” Verstappen told NBCSN’s Will Buxton afterwards. “In general from one to the other set, the balance changed a lot. Don’t know what’s going on there.

“We don’t need to change much. That’s what happened in the last run. First sector was all good but the rear was gone in the second. A bit difficult but we’re still fourth. It’s not too bad.”

How these two get on with their races on Sunday may play a role in the outcome, with the likelihood that barring any mechanical issues for Mercedes that only one of them at best can stand on the podium.

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.