ROBERTO MERH I

At the start of 2014, Roberto Merhi’s motorsport ca­reer looked to be over. Now, thanks to his fight­ing spirit and a dash of good for­tune, he’s rac­ing in F1 for Manor Marus­sia

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“It was spe­cial to come back to Manor,” he says. “The team worked so hard over the win­ter to be on the grid, and I re­ally like them from the past. The at­mos­phere is bet­ter than any­where else I have raced. If I make a mis­take here, ev­ery­one says: ‘Don’t worry, mis­takes can hap­pen.’ You feel like you are in a big fam­ily.”

Merhi’s rst F1 out­ings took place to­wards the end of 2014, in free prac­tice ses­sions with Cater­ham at Monza, Suzuka and Sochi, dur­ing which he twice out­paced the team’s race driver Mar­cus Eric­s­son. But his grad­u­a­tion to a race seat seemed un­likely: even be­fore Cater­ham folded, Merhi’s lack of fund­ing seemed cer­tain to pre­vent him from land­ing an F1 drive for 2015.

As­sis­tance came from his home­land. Over the win­ter, Span­ish For­mula Re­nault 3.5 team Pons Rac­ing set about sourc­ing suf­fi­cient spon­sors to al­low them to of­fer Merhi a free drive. In March 2015, shortly be­fore his Manor F1 deal came to­gether, Merhi signed a deal with Pons. With the ex­cep­tion of Monaco (where Re­nault 3.5 was on the sup­port bill) there are no clashes be­tween the two sched­ules, and Merhi has been keen to hon­our his com­mit­ment to Pons.

“Pons pushed re­ally hard to have me in the car and to nd the spon­sors to give me a drive with them,” he says. “They have been do­ing this since Novem­ber, and it would have been re­ally bad if I had said that I didn’t want to drive for them any more.”

Do­ing dou­ble duty be­tween the two se­ries is noth­ing new. Red Bull in par­tic­u­lar have a ten­dency to pro­mote their driv­ers to F1 mid­sea­son and keep them rac­ing in Re­nault 3.5. But Merhi’s mo­ti­va­tion is dif­fer­ent to the rea­son­ing that led to Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, Jaime Alguer­suari and Daniel Ric­cia­rdo tak­ing a sim­i­lar path, and he be­lieves it can have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on his sea­son at the back of the eld in F1.

“I think that men­tally it’s bet­ter to do both,” he says. “In For­mula 1 ob­vi­ously we can­not ght for wins, so if I’m do­ing another cham­pi­onship with the phi­los­o­phy of ght­ing at the front it keeps me per­form­ing bet­ter, be­cause when you’re driv­ing at the back you can feel down.”

And that’s the big­gest chal­lenge for Merhi in F1: keep­ing his spir­its high so he can spend the sec­ond half of the year giv­ing team-mate Will Stevens more to think about. Merhi has done as much as he can to ad­dress the weight dif­fer­ence be­tween the two, pri­mar­ily, he says, “by just eat­ing salad”, and as the sea­son has pro­gressed Manor have been bet­ter equipped to give both driv­ers equal ma­chin­ery.

The years be­tween Merhi’s F3 ti­tle and his For­mula 1 de­but hardly panned out as he would have ex­pected, but he now be­lieves that the “bad ex­pe­ri­ences” he en­dured have all played their part in him be­ing “fully pre­pared” for F1 when the op­por­tu­nity nally arose. While driv­ing for Manor isn’t easy, Merhi is show­ing a re­silience and de­ter­mi­na­tion that could help pro­long his ca­reer in the fu­ture. He fought hard to make it up the lad­der to reach F1; ex­pect him to keep on ght­ing to stay there.

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