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.