Caterham driver Roberto Merhi feels ready to make his Formula 1 debut should the team give him the nod following a successful first outing at Monza today.
The 23-year-old was drafted in as a replacement for Kamui Kobayashi in the first session on Friday, and is thought to be in the frame to take over permanently until the end of the season.
Caterham opted to run him in FP1 so he could get used to the car’s functionality and processes, given that he had never stepped foot in a Formula 1 racer before. For him, it was a great experience.
“Yeah, it was incredible,” he said after the session. “To drive in Formula 1 for the first time is quite amazing, especially on the out lap when I went out and I was full of power, it was so fast. I really enjoyed that.
“For sure I was not trying to go 100% pushing because at the end of the day it was important not to make any mistakes, and also to learn as much as I could from the car.”
Merhi could make his debut at the Singapore Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, and although he did not confirm that there were any set plans yet, he said that he would be ready to race under the lights if the team wants him to.
“At the moment I’m going to be here on the weekend at Monza looking closely at what Marcus [Ericsson] and Kamui are doing on the weekend, and then let’s see after that what’s going on,” he explained.
“I would feel ready at whatever track, but Singapore is a bit special, but even I think it will not be a problem. It’s a city track like Macau.
“To be honest, the car I thought would be harder to drive, but it’s pretty easy and pretty nice to drive. I would feel ready.”
Merhi’s pace in the session was impressive compared to that of full-time driver Marcus Ericsson, given that it was his first time in the car. He finished ahead of the Swedish rookie, and for the second race in a row, Ericsson is being outclassed by a comparatively inexperienced driver in the Caterham.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”