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Daniel Ricciardo bullish on Red Bull’s lineup, title hopes

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Daniel Ricciardo has spent a lot of his winter in Los Angeles, training and preparing for the new Formula 1 season that kicks off in just under two months at his home race in Melbourne.

And while it remains to be seen whether Red Bull’s chassis and power unit combination will be able to topple Mercedes, Ricciardo is bullish on their prospects, and on the pairing of he and Max Verstappen in their first full season together as teammates. Ricciardo begins his fourth year with Red Bull Racing this year, and Verstappen his second after being promoted from Scuderia Toro Rosso prior to last year’s Spanish Grand Prix.

“I think we can challenge, yes. If we make the same improvements we did last year then (Lewis Hamilton) won’t have anything easy, believe me,” Ricciardo said, via a Q&A with F1’s official website.

“I really think we do (have the best lineup). Now. Not sure who the second best line-up is. Don’t really care!”

Ricciardo said testing the new 2017 Pirelli tires has been weird because of the chassis difference in running an older car. But it’s at least provided a good baseline.

“It was hard to really evaluate. Sure, I felt more grip from the bigger tires, but the car was a kind of random/hybrid set-up so wouldn’t have given the real 2017 feel,” he said.

“But the tires seemed fun, so I expect good things when we get on track in Barcelona. From what we’ve seen in the simulator it will be a real challenge. But Barcelona will show the real thing.”

Andretti Autosport picks James Hinchcliffe for last 3 races of season

Andretti Autosport James Hinchcliffe
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James Hinchcliffe will finish the NTT IndyCar Series season for Andretti Autosport, replacing Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

The team made the announcement Friday afternoon that Hinchcliffe will return after racing for Andretti at Texas Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Indianapolis 500.

Hinchcliffe, who also has worked as an IndyCar on NBC analyst and pit reporter, will race in the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s always unfortunate to have to change drivers this far into a season, but we have to look at finishing the year the best we can for the 26 team and start evaluating and looking at options for 2021,” team owner Michael Andretti said in a release. “James has an existing relationship with our team that we’d love to build on and it makes the most sense for him to step in for these last three races. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do.”

Hinchcliffe has a season-best finish of seventh in the Indy 500. He had been working on trying to put together a deal for next season after scrambling to secure a partial schedule this year when he lost his ride at Arrow McLaren SP after 2020 with a year left on his deal.

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“I know, probably better than most, what Zach is feeling right now, and I have to say that he has handled everything about as class act as you can,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’ve known Zach as a teammate, before that as a colleague and even before that as a friend, and he is a guy that I respect in every way. I know he is a fighter and will fight back to where he wants to be.

“For me now, my focus is 100% on racing the Harvest GP and getting the best possible results for Gainbridge, for Honda, for Michael and for the team. I obviously haven’t been on a road course in a while, but at least the last time I was, it was here at IMS! Hopefully that puts us in a good position to go out there and have a strong weekend.”