Roberto Merhi ready for first F1 outing, but admits it will be a challenge

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Roberto Merhi is feeling excited ahead of his first Formula 1 outing during practice for the Italian Grand Prix tomorrow, but admits that he faces a big challenge to get to grips with the car at the sport’s most demanding circuit.

Monza is the fastest track on the calendar, requiring low downforce and skinny wings. It is something of an anomaly in terms of setup, making it a challenge for all of the teams and rivers.

Merhi, pictured in blue, has been racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series this season, but will replace Kamui Kobayashi for practice on Friday in Italy. Although he is excited, he admits that he faces a big challenge.

“I’m quite excited,” Merhi told journalists at Monza. “The first time is in free practice, and it’s going to be hard but let’s see how it goes.

“Tomorrow is a hard situation. You need to prove that you are ready to race and you need to try to build up your confidence on the car, but you have just one hour and a half in practice and two sets of new tires.

“You need to show that you have consistent lap times, that you can do steps during your free practice session. It’s important to give good feedback to the team so they know how the car is behaving. I think this is a mandatory thing for tomorrow.”

Merhi is thought to be in the frame to replace Kobayashi for the Singapore Grand Prix if he can obtain his FIA superlicense in the meantime. However, the Spaniard is taking things one step at a time.

“I don’t know yet,” he said when asked if he would be racing in Singapore. “At the moment, the idea is to do the free practice one to see how it goes, to see how much I can learn from the car and from everyone.

“And then we will see what is going on and what is the next target. But Singapore is quite a tough place to do a race!”

Merhi will become the fourth driver to race for Caterham in 2014, with Andre Lotterer also replacing Kobayashi for the Belgian Grand Prix weekend.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.