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Hamilton paces first Monza F1 practice for Mercedes

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Lewis Hamilton set the pace through the opening Formula 1 practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza on Friday, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes on Ferrari home soil.

Hamilton is looking to become the first driver to win back-to-back races in 2017 this weekend at Monza, having cut the gap to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the top of the drivers’ championship down to just seven points with victory at Spa last Sunday.

Hamilton started as he will mean to go on in FP1 by setting the pace in the Mercedes W08, posting a fastest lap time of 1:21.537 to finish four-tenths of a second clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas.

With the high-speed nature of Monza’s layout tipped to favor Mercedes, the German marque’s display was ominous as title rival Ferrari could not get within a second of Hamilton’s time, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finishing third and fourth respectively.

Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen wound up fifth and sixth overall, a further one-tenth of a second back from the Ferraris, while Force India’s warring duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon took seventh and eighth place.

Stoffel Vandoorne led McLaren’s charge through FP1 in ninth, while Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10 for Williams, two seconds off Hamilton’s time.

The session went by without major incident, with the threatening clouds over Monza only producing light spits of rain from time-to-time that were not heavy enough to limit running or warrant the use of the intermediate tire.

With heavier rain expected for FP2 later this afternoon, though, the majority of teams aimed to include some of their long-run program in their FP1 running.

Second practice for the Italian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am 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.