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Crashes, penalties give F1’s Finns difficult Saturday at Suzuka

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Formula 1’s Finnish contingent had a difficult Saturday ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix as both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen encountered crashes and penalties at Suzuka.

Bottas’ five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change was confirmed on Friday, but the Mercedes driver’s plight deepened when he crashed into the barrier exiting Spoon in FP3, damaging his car.

Bottas was able to bounce back in qualifying and finish second behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, only to lose his front row spot due to the grid drop. He will start sixth after the grid is re-jigged.

“With the incident I had in FP3, there was some extra work for the guys. They did really well to get the car together, it worked perfectly,” Bottas said, having also qualified for the race on the soft compound tire.

“It’s been a tricky weekend, not quite so clean so far, and going slightly over a kerb in FP3 can make a massive difference. I had to reset and go for it.

“It’s going to be a long race, but it’s just a real shame [to drop back]. It would have been better to start one and two as a team. That would have been nice, but it is what it is.”

Bottas’ struggles almost mirrored those of compatriot Raikkonen, who also crashed out in FP3 after making a mistake, running wide at Degner 2.

Ferrari was forced to change the gearbox on Raikkonen’s car ahead of qualifying, giving him a five-place grid drop. Like Bottas, the 2007 world champion opted for an alternate strategy, also taking soft tires.

However, Raikkonen was not able to match his fellow countryman for pace in Q2, and will start the race 10th following his penalty.

“It was not a great start of the day to go off track this morning in FP3, not the ideal preparation for qualifying. After that, everything got more difficult, but the team did a great job to get the car back in one piece,” Raikkonen said.

“In qualifying the car felt OK, but it was a bit tricky. The biggest issue was the limited running we had had with new tires in the morning. In Q3, when I really had to push, I made a mistake in the first run and I had a pretty average lap time in the second one. Now I pay the price for my mistake.

“After my crash, we’ve got a five places penalty for replacing the gearbox. This obviously complicates our race even more.

“Tomorrow it’s not going to be easy, but I think that we have a good car for the race.”

The Japanese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight 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.