F1 Spa practice
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Max Verstappen leads second practice at Spa; Daniel Ricciardo 2nd

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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday in the second practice session for the F1 Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa circuit

Verstappen was 0.048 seconds ahead of Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo and 0.096 ahead of six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes driver has won four of the first six races and leads the championship by 37 points over second-place Verstappen.

With about 20 minutes left, Ricciardo parked his Renault on the side after a loss of hydraulic pressure.

The session briefly was held up after debris fell onto the track at Turn 1, with race stewards rushing over to remove a couple of loose advertising hoardings.

Conditions were overcast all day with light rain falling in the afternoon on the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) track nestled in the Ardennes forest.

It was another miserable day for struggling Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc 15th and four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel in 17th.

In the first practice, Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas led by 0.069 seconds over Hamilton.

Bottas had a late puncture to his left-front tire in that session because of debris (and not the tire degradation issues that caused a puncture near the end of the British GP on Aug. 2).

There will be a third and final practice Saturday ahead of qualifying in the afternoon.

The track was mostly empty as all F1 races have been held without fans this season because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Last year more than 250,000 fans – including swarms of orange-clad Dutch fans supporting Verstappen- crammed onto campsites with smells from impromptu barbecues and fast-food stalls filling the air.

But some fans might be coming back next month in Italy. Tuscany region president Enrico Rossi said Friday that local health authorities have approved 3,000 fans for the Tuscan Grand Prix on Sept. 13.

The circuit has three big stands that can hold 1,000 people each in accordance with national rules on public events.

Fans will have their temperature taken upon arrival and wear masks if it is approved at government level on Saturday.

There will be a smattering of spectators at the Italian GP in Monza a week earlier, too, with 250 health workers invited to attend in recognition of their efforts during the pandemic.

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.