Lewis Hamilton
AP

Hamilton expects stronger challenge from Ferrari in 2019

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MONTMELO, Spain — Ferrari’s early dominance in Formula One preseason testing has caught Lewis Hamilton’s attention.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc have been among the fastest drivers in the first week of testing in Spain, with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas unable to keep pace.

Daniil Kvyat, back in F1 after a one-year absence, was the fastest in his Toro Rosso on the third of four test days at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit on Wednesday, ahead of former Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, now with Alfa Romeo. Daniel Ricciardo was third with Renault, ahead of Vettel.

“Ferrari are very, very strong right now,” said Hamilton, who was 12th fastest, just behind Bottas. “As you have seen, they are racking up great mileage as well and it appears that they have a better package than they had last year, which means it is going to be even more of a challenge for us this year.”

Hamilton won his fifth world title last year, beating Vettel and Raikkonen in the drivers’ championship.

“Ferrari always looks particularly strong, for the last few years they have looked very strong, so that is to be expected,” Hamilton said. “For us, we are just going about our process and trying to understand, so everyone is working incredibly hard.”

He said it’s too early to be overly concerned with the rival’s performance.

“It’s not a time when we need to focus on others, we let everyone else do their thing and really dig deep and focus on making sure our processes are better than ever before, that we are analyzing the data better than ever before and that from a driver’s point of view the feedback is more accurate than ever before,” Hamilton said. “That is what we are trying to focus on and making sure we get through our run plans.”

There was some concern that Mercedes may lose ground this year because it didn’t do as well as Ferrari with the design of the new front wings, which are part of regulation changes for this upcoming season. Red Bull, which also is using a similar front-wing design to Mercedes, had Max Verstappen fifth-quickest after 109 laps on Wednesday.

Kvyat’s time of 1 minute, 17.704 seconds was the fastest of the week. Raikkonen ran the most laps with 138, one more than Kvyat, and four more than Vettel.

Williams finally made it to the track after missing the first two days of testing because of delays with its 2019 car. Rookie George Russell managed only 23 laps and was the slowest driver of the day.

“It’s embarrassing not bringing a race car to a circuit when everyone else has managed to do that, particularly a team like ours that has managed to bring a race car to testing for the past 40-odd years,” Williams team principal Claire Williams said. “We can only apologize.”

There were three red flags on Wednesday, all prompted by problems with Haas cars.

Testing will continue through Thursday and then again from Feb. 26-March 1 at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 17.

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.