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Hamilton doubles up in second USGP practice as Ferrari hits trouble

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Lewis Hamilton went two-for-two in Friday’s Formula 1 practice session ahead of the United States Grand Prix by topping the afternoon running at the Circuit of The Americas for Mercedes.

Hamilton enters this weekend on the verge of clinching his fourth F1 drivers’ title, with victory at COTA and a finish of sixth or lower for Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel being enough to settle the championship.

Hamilton started the weekend on the right foot by leading a damp FP1 session, but was able to flex his muscle and establish his edge over the field more in second practice in dry conditions.

Hamilton turned in a best lap of 1:34.668 to finish almost four-tenths of a second clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the head of the field, recording a new track record at COTA in the process.

Vettel’s hopes of striking back against Hamilton were dented early in FP2 when he ran off the circuit while on a flying lap, almost beaching his Ferrari car.

The team brought Vettel back into the pits and spent a large chunk of the session completing fixes on the car, limiting the German to just 11 laps in total. He was nevertheless still able to finish third-fastest, half a second back from Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas took fourth in the second Mercedes, leading Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen as the trio struggled to match their teammates further up the order.

Fernando Alonso put in a stellar display for McLaren to finish as the ‘best of the rest’ behind the top three teams, taking P7 ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa and the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, filling out the top 10.

Carlos Sainz Jr. continued his impressive start to life with Renault, beating new teammate Nico Hulkenberg for the second straight session.

Toro Rosso stand-in Brendon Hartley continued to get more laps under his belt ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, completing 41 in total en route to P17 overall.

Track running continues at COTA on Saturday with FP3 live on the NBC Sports app from 12pm ET, followed by qualifying on NBCSN at 5pm ET.

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.